More than a million residents are evacuating coastal Carolina counties because of Hurricane Florence. Others are riding out the storm at home. What homeowners in both groups face is the possibility of damage to their property â€“ and the potential for encountering home repair scammers amid the devastation.
According to AARP, more than 3,200 homeowners submitted complaints about scams, frauds and price gouging in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last year. â€śThere have been complaints from flood victims over phony home repairs, insurance scams and fraudulent FEMA-related jobs,â€ť the seniorsâ€™ advocacy group reported.
â€śThe most common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors and charging for free services,â€ť FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, notes on its website: Â â€śIt is important to remain alert, ask questions and require identification when someone claims to represent a government agency,â€ť adding that â€śFederal Emergency Management Agency representativesÂ alwaysÂ carry an identification badge with a photograph. A FEMA shirt or jacket isÂ notÂ proof of identity.â€ť
How do you avoid being scammed if your home is damaged? â€śUnfortunately, after a large natural disaster there are unscrupulous repairmen who will quickly descend on the impacted area to exploit homeowners,â€ť cautions Chris Hackett, senior policy director at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of AmericaÂ (PCIAA). â€śAlthough it is tempting to begin repair work immediately, it is critical to choose a reputable licensed contractor. Check the Better Business Bureau for any complaints filed on the business. Get a work estimate in writing and pay in installments as work is completed. Never pay in cash. Pay with a check or credit card to create a record of your payment,â€ť he adds. Hackett also recommends speaking with your insurance claims adjuster before signing any documents. They might save you some policy headaches.
PCIAA offers this additional advice to avoid being scammed if your home is damaged:
David Pekel, president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry agrees: â€śNot everyone who reaches out to you as a contractor wants to help.â€ť If your insurance company does not provide a vetted contractor for your repairs, Pekel, a master certified remodeler himself, suggests asking for referrals from local real estate agents, lenders, building material suppliers and your own personal and professional connections. â€śGet local,â€ť he urges. â€śA local professional who works in your city or town will know the local building code and permit requirements. Building codes vary considerably from each jurisdiction and are known to change from year to year.â€ť
Another benefit to using local pros is that they know the ins and outs of the local building code office, which can be helpful to your permitting process when that office is inundated.
You will also be able to check up on local contractors more easily, Pekel notes. â€śContact your state or local licensing agencies to ensure the contractor meets all requirements. Most states require a contractor to carry worker’s compensation, property damage, and personal liability insurance. Ask for a copy of their license and insurance certificate to make sure that it is current,â€ť he advises.
It’s best to get comparable estimates from more than one contractor. â€śBe sure they are working off the same scope and quality of work. Discuss variations in prices, and beware of any estimate that is substantially lower than the others,â€ť Pekel suggests. The lowest bidder often ends up costing clients more in the long run with added change orders, longer time out of the home and sub-standard materials or workmanship.
Itâ€™s difficult enough dealing with the damage and dislocation that a natural disaster inflicts. Donâ€™t add to your pain by falling prey to scammers or shoddy repairs.