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Making Repairs after Unexpected Home Damages

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RISMEDIA, August 17, 2007—(MCT)—The carpet from the family room and everything that had been on it are piled at the curb. The washer, dryer, hot water tank, freezer and other items that had been knee-deep in muddy water in the basement have been dragged out there, too.

Sheets of plywood cover windows broken by falling trees or flying debris. A blue tarp covers the hole in the roof.

It’s time to make permanent repairs.

But what do you do first?

Take your time, advises state Attorney General Tom Corbett and consumer advocate Angie Hicks, the founder of Angie’s List, a service that provides ratings on contractors and businesses based on member feedback.

Contact your insurance company. Ask it to determine if the damage is covered by your homeowner’s policy.

Get at least three written estimates and at least three referrals, including addresses. Visit each referral to check on the quality and timeliness of the work.

Avoid contractors who don’t have local business addresses and phone numbers. Confirm each address with a personal visit. Beware of contractors who claim to be certified or affiliated with any state or federal emergency program. And don’t allow a contractor, utility company worker or “inspector” into your home without confirming his identity. Check customer satisfaction with the Better Business Bureau (www.pittsburgh.bbb.org, 412-456-2700) or Angie’s List (www.angieslist.com, 412-322-2474 and pittsburgh@angieslist.com).

After selecting a contractor, insist on a written contract that states the type, quality and warranty of materials to be used, the costs for labor and supplies, all the financial terms and payment schedules, a guarantee that old materials will be removed, and a start and completion date. Include a penalty clause for failure to complete the work on time.

Check local, city, county or state licensing rules and/or regulations contractors must comply with. Insist that your contractor obtain all the proper permits and that he or she has liability and compensation insurance.

If the contractor wants a down payment, and most do, a payment equal to one-third of the cost of the project may be appropriate. Make future payments as the work progresses. Don’t make the final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. Under NO circumstances should you pay the entire cost before work begins.

Mr. Corbett said his office receives thousands of consumer complaints each year about contractors hired to do home repairs or remodeling. Go to www.attorneygeneral.gov or call toll-free 1-800-441-2555.

“The most important advice I have for homeowners is not to let their guard down and be rushed into making decisions they may regret later,” Mr. Corbett said in a statement. “Take the time to get a contract and do some research on anyone performing work on your home.”

Ms. Hicks agrees.

“Beware of service providers that ‘ride into town’ in time to reap the ‘rewards’ of bad weather,” she said. “Many unscrupulous types will try and take advantage of consumers in an area particularly hard hit by inclement conditions by undercutting the local providers and doing a shoddy job or no job at all.”

Ms. Hicks, of Indianapolis, began Angie’s List in 1995, selling memberships door to door. She now has more than 500,000 customers in 124 cities across the country. The annual membership fee is $59, with a sign-up fee of $15 for new members.

Angie’s List receives more than 14,000 reviews on companies every month from consumers across the nation who describe their projects and the work done, state whether they’d hire the company again, and grade it on overall experience, price, quality of work, responsiveness, punctuality and professionalism.

Companies can’t put themselves on the list or pay to be put on it, but have an opportunity to respond to critical reviews.

Copyright © 2007, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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