March 31, 2009 – Saint Paul, Minnesota – The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) cautions flood victims in the Fargo and Moorhead areas to consider some important tips as they begin to clean up and repair their properties.
“Victims of storm damage are particularly vulnerable to fly-by-night contractors who attempt to take advantage of an already terrible situation,” said Barb Grieman, interim president of the BBB. “Home owners need to keep their cool and take time to ensure they are making wise decisions before hiring help.”
Some common scams include contractors who insist on being paid in full before doing any work, or contractors who charge for a shoddy job. The BBB offers these tips to help consumers protect themselves from unethical and fraudulent contractors:
- Ask friends, relatives and business associates for recommendations.
- Check out the contractor 24 hours a day with the Better Business Bureau on the Web at www.thefirstbbb.org and via telephone toll-free at 800-646-6222.
- In Minnesota, contact the Department of Labor at www.doli.state.mn.us to determine if the contractor is licensed. In North Dakota, contact the Secretary of State at http://www.nd.gov/sos/licensing/search-disclaimer.html.
- Ask for a list of previous clients for reference and call the clients to ask about the quality of work performed. If possible, go look at the contractor's completed work.
- Beware of door-to-door itinerant workers who offer to clean up your yard, make simple repairs on your home, or claim to have left over materials from a job “down the street.” Be sure you know the name of their company, pay them after the work is done to your satisfaction, and get a receipt that has the company’s name, address, phone, and license number on it.
- Get several estimates. The estimates should all be based on the same building specifications, quality of materials, labor and time needed to complete the project. Be certain you understand the reasons for any variations in prices. Remember: the least expensive service is not always the best service.
- Be suspicious if you're asked to pay for the entire job in advance. The down payment should be no more than one-third of the total contract price.
- Be aware that anything you sign is a contract. Read carefully and avoid signing an "estimate" or "authorization" form before you have actually decided to hire a particular contractor. Pay special attention to any details in bold, that are underlined or that you need to initial.
- You should have a written contract agreement with anyone you hire and make sure it specifies the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. It should also stipulate the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor, and list start and end dates for the work. Many complaints received by the BBB could have been avoided if the homeowner would have read the contract thoroughly.
- Any promises made verbally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.
- Be sure the name, address, license number and phone number of the contractor appear on all invoices!
- Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
- 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.
- If you are not able to find a reputable contractor to help with repairs in a timely fashion, ask them if they would be willing to make temporary emergency repairs until they have time to do the full repair.
- Be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.
- Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash.
- Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota provides services to consumers and businesses. The focus of the Bureau’s activity is to facilitate good relationships between businesses and consumers by encouraging honest advertising and selling practices, and offering complaint resolution. For more information about the Better Business Bureau, visit the Bureau’s web site at www.thefirstbbb.org
or call 651-699-1111, toll-free 800-646-6222.