May 24, 2011 – St. Paul, MN – The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is offering guidance to area residents who suffered damage to their homes during recent severe weather in and around the metro area, and reminds people to take precautions when cleaning up and making repair decisions. Though most contractors have your best interests in mind, there are those few that are only interested in making a fast dollar. To avoid those bad actors, the BBB provides the following tips to homeowners who have experienced property damage:
- Contact your insurance company immediately to inquire about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. This gets the ball rolling on the claim process.
- Document the damage to your property (and autos); take pictures or video if possible.
- Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Your insurer might not fully reimburse you for permanent repairs made without their authorization.
- Make any minor repairs to limit further damage to the home. You may be liable for damage that occurs after a storm has passed, so make temporary repairs, such as boarding up broken windows or throwing a tarp over a leaky roof. If you have to make temporary repairs to protect your home from the elements, be sure to save all of your receipts.
- Get references from friends and relatives and contact the Better Business Bureau to obtain Reliability Reports on any company you are considering hiring. Visit our Website 24 hours a day at www.bbb.org. Or call 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222. Shop around and get more than one estimate.
- Ask all companies for proof of liability and workers compensation insurance as well as a license to do work in Minnesota. A contractor should be responsible for obtaining all necessary permits, not you. Local or national companies may both do a fine job with your storm damage repair needs. If you choose to do business with someone who is not local, be sure to understand who will be taking care of any service needs that may arise after the completion of the project.
- Understand the difference between warranties and guarantees. The manufacturer warranties their products and contractors have warranties on service. Contractors may also offer customer service guarantees. Get copies of any/all warranties and guarantees.
- Refrain from filing an insurance claim on something that you do not intend to fix. There could be repercussions from your insurance company when you do not make repairs you are being compensated for. Keep in mind that if you hold a mortgage on your home, your mortgage company may have a vested interest in you making the repairs and most will mandate you to make the repairs. Most checks from insurance come to the consumer with both the consumer’s name and the mortgage company’s name. Both need to sign off on the check.
- Some companies list bids on their own contract to do service work on your home/property and some do not (basing their pricing on "insurance allowance"). Both are acceptable methods of conducting business.
- Prepare a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. 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.
- Be sure the name, address, license number and phone number of the contractor appear on all invoices and contracts!
- Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.
- Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash.
- Review all documentation before signing on the dotted line and before making any payment. Be sure it specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Ask for a start and end date for the work to be done.
- 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. Storm victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce has developed a one-stop shop to help Minnesota homeowners and businesses prepare for natural disasters. Among the tools on their site is a checklist that consumers can use to take inventory of their belongings. Consumers can also download the free myHome Scr.APP.book app for iPhone® users by visiting the iTunes® App Store or searching 'NAIC" in the app store from their phone. Research suggests 48 percent of consumers do not have an inventory of their possessions. Of those who do, 32 percent have no photos and 58 percent have no receipts.
Their Home Inventory Checklist will walk consumers from room to room in their home and help them compile a thorough list of their property. By completing the checklist, homeowners who do file an insurance claim or qualify for assistance will know what they had in their home that needs to be replaced.
For questions regarding insurance, call the Minnesota Department of Commerce Consumer Reponse Team at 651-296-2488 or 800-657-3602 (outside Twin Cities Metro area). You can also visit their website at www.insurance.mn.gov.