BBB Warns: “Storm Chasers” are coming in from other states
July 19, 2012 – Charleston, WV – The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) phone has been ringing off the hook for the past week from consumers calling to verify the legitimacy of out-of-state contractors. Hundreds of contractors have recently moved into the area following the severe storm damage that wreaked havoc on the state earlier this month.
Judy Strawderman, the BBB’s West Virginia Office Administrator says “Storm chasing has become a multi-million dollar industry, complete with computerized hail forecasting, teams of out-of-state installers and trained salespeople who go door-to-door soliciting work.”
“People are desperate to get the repairs completed quickly but are receiving so many solicitations, they really don’t know who to trust,” says Strawderman.
All contractors working in the state of West Virginia require a license from the Department of Labor for any job costing more than $2,500 in material and labor. Any work completed that costs less than $2,500 must have a proper West Virginia business license that is obtained from the state tax department or Secretary of State’s office.
One contractor recently sent a solicitation by fax to the BBB office. The flyer claimed they were licensed and insured. Upon verification with the Department of Labor, the company did not have a license to conduct business in the state of West Virginia. When the company was asked about their license status they admitted to a BBB representative they were not licensed yet, but only had to fill out a couple of forms and would be approved within 24-hours. According to a representative from the Department of Labor said, the process to obtain a contractor’s license is definitely more involved than filling out a couple of pieces of paper and would not happen in 24-hours.
The BBB offers the following advice to homeowners before hiring a contractor:
· Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts if temporary repairs are necessary.
· 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. Be proactive in selecting a business and not re-active to sales solicitations.
· For major repairs, take time to shop around and get 3 -4 estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check out references that are at least one year-old and verify licensing with local agencies.
· Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a job “down the street” or who do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits.
· 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. While most contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know inspect your home. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get the work.
· Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. Be sure their name address, license number, if applicable, and phone number is included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety, and don’t sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract is to be given to you at the time of signature.
· Clearly written proposals that are detailed and broken down into separate line items are a good sign that the contractor is being thorough and has prepared an accurate estimate.
· If one estimate seems much lower than the others and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many fly-by-night contractors’ below-cost bids seem attractive, but these contracts often are uninsured and perform substantial cancellation fees or liquidation damages are required if the homeowner decides not to use the contractor after insurance approval of the claim.
· Never pay for work in full in advance. The Better Business Bureau recommends a consumer never pay more than half before the contractor starts repairs and don’t pay the remaining balance until you are satisfied with the work.
Victims of severe storm damage should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Start with companies you can trust. For reliable information, list of BBB Accredited contractors in your area by industry, and BBB business reviews on businesses both in and out of state, contact the BBB at 1-800-362-0494 or www.bbb.org.
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For 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping consumers find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2011, consumers turned to BBB more than 100 million times for Business Reviews on more than 4 million companies and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at www.bbb.org. The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for 115 local, independent BBBs across the United States and Canada, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution and industry self-regulation.