Severe storms rolled through Southern Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area over the weekend, pelting the region with hail, heavy rain and strong winds. Homeowners are busy now assessing and addressing damage to their property. Dealing with damage caused by severe weather can be very stressful, and making decisions in haste sometimes only makes matters worse. It’s important to choose a contractor you can rely on. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) offers guidance to everyone who suffered or might yet suffer damage in this week’s storms.
BBB has recently been made aware of situations where insurance companies will designate preferred vendors/contractors – which they encourage homeowners to work with during the estimate, cleanup and repair process. BBB advises homeowners that they have the right under Minnesota law to choose their own contractors to perform repairs and do not have to work with their insurance companies’ designated vendors, though they may. BBB also reminds homeowners that contractors need to honor contracts they enter into.
If you sign up with a contractor, especially one that comes in with a low bid – be it a preferred vendor or otherwise – and they subsequently say they’re unable to honor the bid, the matter should be reported to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (www.dli.mn.gov). Homeowners should notify the Minnesota Department of Commerce (mn.gov/commerce) if the insurance company’s designated vendor will not do the work for the amount quoted or bid.
Consumers need to be aware that anything they sign can be construed as an enforceable contract. Always read all paperwork carefully and avoid signing an "estimate" or "authorization" form before making a hiring decision. Pay special attention to any details in bold, that are underlined or that you need to initial.
To help consumers navigate the recovery and restoration process and assist property owners in finding reputable contractors, BBB offers the following tips:
- Contact your insurance company immediately to inquire about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Document the damage to your property (including your vehicles); take pictures or video if possible.
- Don’t 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. However, you should make minor repairs that might be necessary to limit any further damage. Be sure to save all of your receipts.
- Shop around and get multiple estimates. Watch out for high pressure sales tactics. Ask for references from friends and relatives and contact BBB to obtain free Business Profiles on any company you are considering hiring. Always visit bbb.org or, in Minnesota and North Dakota, call 800-646-6222.
- Some restoration 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 methods are acceptable.
- Ask all companies for proof of liability and workers compensation insurance as well as a license to do work in Minnesota or North Dakota. A contractor should be responsible for obtaining all necessary permits, not you – though homeowners bear the cost of permits.
- Demand a written contract from anyone you hire. It should specify the scope of the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Any verbal promises 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 and contracts.
- 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, as well as start and completion dates.
- 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. If you hold a mortgage on your home, your mortgage company may have a vested interest in you restoring your property and most will mandate you to make the repairs. Insurance checks often come to the consumer with both the consumer’s and the mortgage company’s names. Both need to sign off on the check.
- Be clear on warranties; who guarantees what. The manufacturer warranties their products and contractors have warranties on service. Request details on – and copies of – all warranty information.