Lending a Hand: Tips for Hiring a Contractor After a Natural Disaster
“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping… I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
- Fred Rogers
In the wake of a natural disaster, like the recent tornadoes in the Dayton and Celina, Ohio areas, we see these words come to life. With destruction and devastation mere miles away from us here in Cincinnati, we see our own neighbors spring into action. It warms our hearts to see Cincinnati-based organizations head to Dayton, including La Soupe in order to feed the hungry with World Central Kitchen, Matthew 25 to clothe and comfort with the Tide Loads of Hope mobile washing units and personal care items from Procter & Gamble, and other generous and giving individuals who are ready to lend a hand, donate a product or write a check. It’s times like these when we see how kindness and giving can repair and sustain a community.
Unfortunately, there are those who seek to take advantage of disaster victims, quickly and unfairly attempting to turn a profit from others’ misfortunes. If your home has been damaged, you might feel the need to find a contractor who can get to work quickly. While most contractors out there are honest, hardworking and willing to help, there are always a few who just want to help themselves. The English Contractor has put together a quick list to help you tell the difference. We don’t typically service the Dayton area, so this is us lending a helping hand in our own way.
Do your research.
You may have a tried-and-true contractor at the ready. But if you don’t, how do you sift through your options? Ask for recommendations from neighbors, friends and family. Ask the contractor for references and diligently check them. The Better Business Bureau is also a good resource, as is your insurance agent or adjuster. Check them out online on review sites to see their reputation, for good and for bad. Do they have a physical address? A little homework now can help in the long run, no matter how anxious you are to get started.
Following a disaster, some contractors go door to door offering their assistance. Don’t assume that because they pull up in a truck printed with a name and logo, and have tools and business cards that they are professionals. Are they who they say they are? Check out their website and if they have a physical address as well, as well as confirm references and reviews. In fact, you’ll want to make sure that they are licensed within your community, too. Your area might be filled with out-of-town people looking for work. A local, licensed contractor will know the codes and regulations specific to your community, including knowing what local permits are necessary to perform your repairs. Make sure they carry insurance. (An uninsured contractor often provides a bid that is significantly lower than their peers.) Hire a contractor who is a member of a reputable industry trade organization, including:
National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI)
Restoration Industry Association (RIA)
American Indoor Air Quality Council (ACAC)
Institute of Inspection, Cleaning & Restoration Certification (IICRC)
But don’t take their licenses, memberships and insurance proof at their word. Ask to see verification for yourself.
With water damage to your home, time is of the essence. Take pictures and document everything for insurance before you remove carpeting or sheetrock. If you’re concerned about structural damage to your home, first contact a building inspector, architect or engineer. If you need to make some quick, temporary repairs, beware of a contractor who wants you to spend a lot of money-making temporary repairs. Always check with your insurance company first to double check policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save receipts for any temporary repairs.
But not too fast.
You want to get your life back to normal as soon as possible, but don’t feel pressured into making an immediate decision for repairs that aren’t immediately necessary. Take your time in selecting a contractor and be wary of a contractor who wants to start without taking the time to prepare a contract and an estimate.
Take care of your paperwork.
That contract is important. It should include the cost, scope of work, timeline, guarantees and payment schedule. Materials and labor should be itemized. Ask for a written warranty for the work that is done. Avoid a contractor who asks you to pay the entire balance at the start of the project, who accepts only cash or offers a price that seems too good to be true. Don’t ever sign a blank contract and make sure that the contractor’s business name, address, license number and phone number are included—and correct. Ask for a copy of the final, signed contract and keep it on file for at least two years following the repairs. Get a final invoice, marked paid in full, to also keep on file upon completion of the project.
If you feel you have fallen prey to an unethical contractor, file a report with your local law enforcement agency or district attorney’s office. Of course, if your project has been successfully completed, you can take a big sigh of relief. But you’re not done yet. Take the time to leave an honest review of your contractor on a website like Angie’s List, Houzz or Yelp. Your honesty could one day help a homeowner in the same position.