AUSTIN, Texas -- With millions of dollars in recovery funds flowing to Texans whose homes were damaged or destroyed during the wildfires, state and federal emergency management officials are offering some sound advice: hire legitimate contractors for your repair or reconstruction jobs.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommend that Texans who have received FEMA grants to repair or rebuild homes make sure their contractor is experienced and trustworthy, and that all appropriate building permits are obtained before any work begins.
The state of Texas does not license home builders, but many Texas counties and municipalities do require that contractors be licensed. The state does license some specialty building trades, including electricians. Contractor information may be obtained through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation as well as through local trade or professional organizations and area Better Business Bureaus.
“Checking a contractor’s credentials before signing any paperwork will start your rebuilding project off on the right foot,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin L. Hannes of FEMA. “We want federal recovery funds to help get wildfire survivors back into well-constructed, safe homes.”
Other tips for avoiding fly-by-night builders include:
- Get a written estimate and read the fine print -- Always try to get estimates from several reputable contractors before making a decision. Hire a local contractor if at all possible.
- Ask for a written contract -- A complete contract should clearly state the scope of work to be performed, all associated costs and a payment schedule. Don’t succumb to pressure to sign a contract immediately because you are told the “offer is good today only!”
- Get an address -- Choose a contractor with an established physical address, and verify the information. It’s normal for contractors to use cell phones these days, but they should still have a physical address.
- Permits -- Make sure the contract clearly states who obtains necessary permits. Have an attorney review the contract if substantial costs are involved. Keep a copy of signed contracts.
- Proof of insurance -- Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance, workers' compensation and is bonded. Homeowners or businesses could be held liable for an accident on their property if the contractor is uninsured.
- Pay by check -- Never pay the full amount before the work is done and pay with a check or credit card instead of cash.
- Beware of the phrase “FEMA Certified” -- FEMA neither certifies nor endorses any private-sector contractor, so be wary of one who claims to have either. If approached by anyone claiming to represent FEMA, ask for identification. All FEMA representatives carry photo identification.
- Report unscrupulous activities, scams or fraud -- If you suspect any sort of scam or fraud, contact your local law enforcement and report the matter to the Texas Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division online at www.oag.state.tx.us/consumer/complain.shtm. A complaint form can be downloaded from the website and mailed to the Consumer Protection Division at P.O. Box 12548, Austin, TX 78711-2548.