LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- State and federal officials caution those whose homes were damaged from the severe storms and tornadoes of April 9 to be extremely careful when hiring contractors to clean and repair disaster damaged property or remove disaster debris. Do some checking and verify their credentials.
"Unfortunately, in disaster recovery situations, there are some individuals ready to take advantage of the misfortunes of others," said State Coordinating Officer Richard Griffin of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. "Take the time to do the research to ensure your contractor is reputable."
Whether they are architectural, engineering, electrical, or general contractors, most service providers in the building industry are honest. But disasters attract scam artists. Some claim to be "FEMA certified," when, in fact, FEMA neither certifies nor endorses any contractor.
Tips for hiring contractors include:
- Get a written estimate. Compare services and prices before making a final decision. Also, read the fine print. Some contractors charge a fee for a written estimate, which is often applied to the price of subsequent repairs they make.
- Check references. Contractors should be willing to provide the names of previous customers. Call several former customers who had similar work done to make sure they were satisfied with the job.
- Ask for proof of insurance. Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers' compensation. If the contractor is not insured, the homeowner may be liable for accidents that occur on the property.
- Use reliable, licensed contractors. Call your local Better Business Bureau to inquire about a business before signing a contract. You can also go online to the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board at www.arkansas.gov/clb/search.html and search to see if a contractor is licensed in Arkansas.
- Insist on a written contract. A complete contract should clearly state all the tasks to be performed, all associated costs and the payment 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 when substantial costs are involved, and keep a copy for your records.
- Get any guarantees in writing. Any guarantees made by the contractor should be written into the contract. The guarantee should clearly state what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Obtain a local building permit if required. Permits may be required for site work, other than demolition, and for reconstruction. Contact your local government for permit information.
- Make final payments only when the work is completed. Do not sign completion papers or make the final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure you to sign if the job is not finished properly.
- 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, to be paid upon initial delivery of materials. Federal law gives consumers a three-day "cooling off" period for unsolicited door-to-door sales of more than $25 (more information on the "cooling off" period can be found at the Federal Trade Commission Web site at www.ftc.gov or you can call 1-877-382-4357).
- Canceling a contract. This should be done within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow the procedures for cancellation that are set out in the contract. Send the n...