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Following any storm, BBB phones ring off the hook from consumers calling to verify the legitimacy of out-of-the-area contractors. Storm chasers and other door-to-door salespeople often peddle dubious deals that may cost homeowners thousands of dollars and create serious headaches, often requiring advance payment and making big promises on which they won’t be able to deliver.

“Victims of severe storm damage should never feel forced to make hasty decisions or choose unknown contractors,” said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas said. “By taking the time to do your homework and initiating contact with companies you wish to do business with will help prevent headaches and protect your wallet.”

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 at least three 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. A good guideline is to pay by the rule of thirds: pay one-third deposit, one-third when the job is 50% complete, and one-third once the job is completed.

Hire locally whenever possible. Chances are, if the company is not from the area, they are less likely to come back and make a repair should you find something they missed.

Start with companies you can trust by going to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call BBB at (903)581-5704 or use BBB Scam Tracker.

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About BBB: BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Most BBB services to consumers are free of charge.

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