BBB Quick Tips: Strangers in Your Home

April 01, 2009
Whenever you invite someone into your home to perform a service, you might feel like you're putting yourself at risk.  Whether you've hired a carpet cleaner, landscaper, or home repair company, what can you do to protect yourself and your property?  How do you know that the company is trustworthy?  What happens if there's a problem, damage, or theft during the project?
1.  When we hire a company whose workers have to enter our homes, how safe should we feel?
You want to make sure that the company is reliable and protects its clients with the right amount of insurance.  The more respectable the business, the more likely that it checks out its workers and monitors what they do on the job.  On the other hand, you want to protect yourself as much as possible.  And use common sense.  It wouldn't be smart to leave a pile of cash on the dining room table when you know strangers are going to be walking in and out all day.
2.  Of course we're going to lock up valuables, but what else can we do to protect our property?
If you can be at home during the work or have someone who can babysit the house, that's always a good idea.  That isn't always possible -- or, in the case of prolonged projects or home improvements, practical.  One thing people find useful is to videotape or photograph the house before and after the workers have done the job.  That might not provide absolute proof in the case of a theft, but it will provide some documentation of the condition of your property.  For instance, if you had a painter in to do work and you discover a big scratch on your furniture after he leaves, you can show before and after photos of the damage.  It would help prove your claim that there was damage to either the contractor or your own insurance company, if it comes to that.  It helps to have some item with a date in at least one photo to demonstrate the timeline.
3.  The Better Business Bureau can help give us some idea of the background of the business and whether it carries the proper licensing and insurance, right?
We can help with that, but there's an important distinction to make.  We can tell you a lot about a business, but we don't get into any criminal charges against a business or its workers where theft is concerned -- that's a police matter.  We can discuss the reliability of the business on any issue other than that, though.

4.  What sort of insurance would a company be expected to carry before we hire it?
It depends, largely, on what kind of company it is.  At the minimum, one would expect a company that enters the homes of its clients to have liability insurance to cover damages that might happen during the job, but you should also ask to see some evidence that the company's employees are covered by worker's compensation insurance.  Your homeowner's insurance might cover you if a worker was hurt on your property while performing some service, but for your own protection and peace of mind, you should expect the company to protect its own workers first-hand.  Better companies know that this is a concern for smart homeowners and will gladly show you the documentation you need to be satisfied.