After a disaster, sales people often go from door-to-door canvassing neighborhoods to generate new business for their cleanup and repair services. While many of these people are honest and reputable, some may not have your best interest at heart. Below is a recommended list of steps to take in order to protect yourself as a homeowner:
- Call the insurance adjuster assigned to your property damage claim and ask the adjuster to make an estimate of the damage and the probable cost to repair. This will provide you with a benchmark estimate prepared by a professional that you can use when negotiating with contractors.
- Check all references when considering a contractor, especially if the contractor comes to your door and offers to do repairs. Inquire about the contractor’s professional reputation by talking with banks, building material suppliers, the contractor’s previous customers, the Homebuilder’s Association, and the Better Business Bureau. Also, be sure to use only reliable, licensed contractors. Call the CSLB to verify all licenses.
- Don’t be rushed into signing a contract with a contractor. It is a good practice to collect many business cards, interview several contractors, and request multiple bids for comparison. Make sure to read the fine print on all estimates and contracts.
- Beware of building contractors that encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. While payments for reasonable temporary repairs are covered as part of the total insurance claim settlement, you don’t want to pay a contractor too large a sum for temporary repairs, since this may deplete the total amount of money you will need for the permanent repairs to be completed.
- Hire local licensed contractors when possible, as it is easier to deal with a local contractor if problems develop. However, since it may not always be possible to deal with local contractors in a disaster situation where local contractors are swamped with repair business, make sure to thoroughly check references as discussed in point number two.
- Get everything the contractor discusses in writing. Make sure that the contract is well written. If the contractor provides 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. Also, if changes or modifications occur in the contract terms, they should be acknowledged by all parties in writing.
- Never sign a contract with blanks that have not been filled in as the blanks could be filled in later with unacceptable terms.
- Consider having a lawyer review the proposed contract for your protection before you sign, if substantial costs are involved.
- Never pay a contractor for the entire project in advance or before the work is completed. California law requires that the amount of the down payment for any one improvement project, other than for construction of a swimming pool, may not exceed $1,000.00 or 10% of the contract price, excluding finance charges, whichever is less. It is a good idea to pay by check instead of cash because you can retain your cashed check as a receipt.
- Be especially suspicious of door-to-door sales people who make unrealistically low estimates, refuse to leave a contract overnight, or try to sell their services by playing on your emotions.
- Remember that Federal law requires a three-day “cooling off” period for unsolicited door-to-door sales of more than $25.00.
- If you decide to cancel a signed contract, it should be canceled within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow the agreement stated in the cancellation clause of the contract. Written notification should be sent by registered mail, so you have proof of canceling the contract.
- Ask the contractor if he/she carries general liability and workers compensation insurance. Request a certificate of insurance (COI) from the contractor you choose that shows the name of the insurance company, policy number and policy limits the contractor carries. You may contact the insurance company directly to verify information on the COI. Do not do business with a contractor who does not carry the appropriate insurance coverage. If the contractor is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.
- Keep a job file containing all papers related to work being done. This file could include the signed contract and any change orders, plans and specifications, bills and invoices, canceled checks, certificates of insurance, lien releases from subcontractors and material suppliers, a record sheet on each contractor listing the work performed, the estimated length of the job, and any letters, notes, or correspondence of any kind with the contractor.
- If excavation work is being performed, such as sewers or basement walls, make sure a building inspector or observer inspects the work before it is hidden from view. An independent assessment may help avoid similar problems from occurring in the future by identifying problems now, allowing needed modifications to be made before construction continues.
- Unfortunately, delays happen in construction projects. Although you may clearly understand the terms of your contract, the contractor may experience circumstances (such as weather) that prevent the construction work from remaining on schedule. This is just a normal part of a construction project, however, as the homeowner, it is up to you to monitor the progress of the project.
We hope this has been helpful information to you. Please forward it on to those that are close to you.