Thursday, October 2, 2008

Flood victims: Avoid unscrupulous contractors

WASHINGTON (10/1/08)--Recent flood victims setting out to repair damaged property need to be on guard against a second threat: unscrupulous, unlicensed, and unqualified contractors.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a Sept. 19 press release advising consumers to steer clear of any contractor claiming to be authorized by FEMA to do repair work. FEMA does not recommend or endorse any contractors, so these false claims should serve as a red flag.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB), Arlington, Va., recommends flood victims not make any repairs until it is known how much aid is available from three sources: insurance proceeds, government assistance, and private funds. The amount of aid available to you from these sources may determine the extent of repairs.

FEMA and BBB offer the following tips:

Secure at least two--preferably three--written estimates. Make sure the contractors are bidding on the same package of repairs, including materials they plan to use, when work will begin and end, and payment schedule.

Do your homework. Call references and ask if they were satisfied with the work. Visit the BBB website at for information about local contractors.

Be suspicious of scare tactics. Don't fall for door-to-door workers who talk about allegedly unsafe conditions on your property and who insist you need work done immediately.

Ask for proof of insurance. If the contractor doesn't carry general liability insurance and workers' compensation, you may be liable for accidents.

Make sure the contract is specific. General comments such as "repair siding" leaves you open to fraud, so insist on detailed descriptions of the work to be performed.

Don't sign until the work is completed. Reputable contractors won't pressure you to sign documents until you're satisfied. A down payment of 30% is standard for the industry, and all payments should be by check, not cash.

If you run afoul of a shady contractor, help your neighbors and other potential victims by filing a complaint with your state attorney general and the local BBB.

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