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Golf-ball-sized hail pounded Billings, Mont. and the surrounding area earlier this week, causing a myriad of structural damage and prompting consumers to flood the phones of insurance companies seeking repair compensation.
Storms that cause extensive structural damage often attract traveling workers commonly known as “storm chasers.” BBB urges consumers to use caution when hiring repair and clean up companies, since not every one will be reputable. After the winds die down, businesses may go door to door with flyers advertising their services, usually offering to work with your insurance company or offering on-the-spot help.
BBB offers the following tips to ensure your money goes to fixing your hail-damaged houses and not to padding the pockets of dishonest contractors.
Take your time. Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Make temporary repairs if necessary, and remember that any deal worth its salt will still be available after you’ve given it some thought.
Check with your insurance company. Ask about your policy coverage and specific filing requirements, then ask for guidelines on hiring a repair contractor.
Shop around for trustworthy businesses. Ask your family and friends for references. Get three competitive bids and references for companies that have been in business for at least one year. Visit bbb.org and take advantage of resources like BBB’s Request-a-Quote feature to get the best bang for your buck.
Stay clear of door-to-door offers. Workers that come knocking with claims of leftover repair materials from a job “down the street” or those who do not have a permanent place of business should raise a red flag.
Independently verify insurance. Make sure the company has liability and worker's compensation insurance. If a contractor cannot provide proof of it, it may be best to go with another company.
Put it in writing. Before allowing any repair work to be done, write out a contract. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Promises made orally should be written into the contract as well, including warranties on materials or labor.
Be cautious with cash and be suspect of upfront requests. Never pay for an entire repair in advance and be wary of contractors pushing you to pay with cash or check. Credit cards, if they’re an option, offer you the best protection should something go wrong. Once your cash is gone, it’s gone.