Santa Fe, NM -- State and federal disaster recovery officials advise New Mexico residents who have disaster-related damage to be careful when hiring contractors to repair or rebuild their homes and businesses.
"Scam artists are often ready to seize the opportunity to capitalize on the misfortune of others," Deputy State Coordinating Officer Bill Ewing of the New Mexico Office of Emergency Management, said.
The New Mexico Attorney General's Office offers the following consumer suggestions:
Use reliable, licensed contractors: Check with the Better Business Bureau (505-988-4747), the Attorney General's Office, (505-827-6060) and the Construction Industries Division (505-982-9541) to check for complaints against the contractor.
- Get written estimates: Be sure to obtain a written estimate for the job and read the fine print. Compare services and prices of several reputable contractors before making a final decision.
- Hire local contractors, if possible.
- Check references: Call former customers who had similar work done to make sure they were satisfied with the job.
- Require proof of insurance: Make sure the contractor carries general liability and workers' compensation insurance.
- Ask for a written contract: A complete contract should clearly state all the tasks to be performed, all associated costs and the prepayment schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Make sure the contract clearly states who will apply for the necessary permits or licenses. Have a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved. Keep a copy of the signed contract.
- Written guarantees: If the contractor provides any guarantees, they should be written into the contract clearly stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Pay by check: Avoid on-the-spot cash payments. The safest route is to write a check to the contracting company. A reasonable down payment is 30 percent of the total cost of the project. Both state and federal law requires a three-business-day "cooling off" period for unsolicited door-to-door sales.
- Canceling a contract: Canceling a contract should be done within three business days of the signing. Be sure to follow the agreements stated in the cancellation clauses. Send the notification by registered mail.
- Have work inspected: If excavation work is being performed (e.g., sewers or basement walls) make sure a qualified inspector checks the work before it is hidden from view to avoid similar problems in the future.
Consumers who have problems with a contractor or have been victims of fraud are urged to contact the state Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection at 1-800-678-1508 or 505-827-6060.
"Take your time, talk to building officials and deal cautiously with contractors and the recovery process will be a positive one," Federal Coordinating Officer Joe Bray of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.