Watchdog: In tornado's wake, protect yourself from bad builders' scams
Dallas Area - Two ways to get hurt by tornadoes: First, lose your home. Second, hire the wrong contractor or roofer for repairs.
I know a lot about the latter.
Once upon a time, after a vicious North Texas hailstorm, the first roofer I hired roofed the wrong house — the one behind me. He got confused.
The second roofer I hired filed for bankruptcy and went to prison for theft.
Those are my credentials for hiring the wrong guy after a storm. See? I’m an expert. You learn from my mistakes.
At the risk of sounding like George W. Bush, remember there are good guys and bad guys. The good ones have established companies with a record of happy clients. They’re most often local.
The bad guys? They usually don’t live in North Texas. At this moment, they are already streaming into town from points yonder, Florida, Mississippi, Arizona, in their pickups.
They’ll bunk in cheap motels and start knocking on doors, if any doors are left. They’ll travel the neighborhoods with cellphones (they won’t use a local area code), clipboards and promises at the ready. They may tuck a pencil behind an ear for effect.
They don’t actually own a construction company. They’ll hire workers they don’t know. Or maybe they’ll just pretend to start a job, take money and disappear.
It’s easy to take advantage of a person in their weakest moments.
“I’m in shock.”
Those words came in an email to me moments ago from my friend and reporter colleague Dr. Seema Yasmin. The Dallas Morning News medical writer has given me permission to share the horrible news that her family lost their Rowlett home in the Saturday night storm.
A few months ago, I invited her husband, Emmanuel, to attend a training lesson I did at the Rockwall County Library. I showed how to hire a roofer and a contractor for a situation like this. I’m glad Emmanuel was there.
Eventually, for him and Seema and thousands of other neighbors in similar situations, the shock will wear off. I hope my training kicks in.
After my own fiasco, I created a checklist to help find a reliable, honest contractor.
Let me share it.
Background check. Tell prospective hires that you will be checking on them. Get full name, address, phone, email and date of birth. If they decline, you save yourself a lot of trouble.
I use a website such as publicdata.com to check a person’s record. Ex-con? Sex offender?
Search. Check individual and company names in a search engine with the words “rip-off” and “scam” to see if others have complained.
Permits. Find out if a company works in the area. Which area cities? Call the permit department at city hall and ask if the company follows the rules and pulls permits before doing a job.
Membership. Is the roofer a member of the North Texas Roofing Contractors Association? Check www.ntrca.com. Is the company a member of the BBB?
References and bids. Get references from previous clients. Get several bids and estimates. You’ll be amazed at the gap between highest and lowest. Figure out why one is low and the other is high.
Slick PR. Don’t fall for a fancy website. Does the company have a physical address?
Bills paid? Ask who is their supplier? Call the business and ask if the contractor pays his bills on time.
Payments. Never pay insurance money up front. Consider giving only a portion after the job is under way. Pay the rest upon completion. Crooks hate that.
Oh, and if you have a problem with an insurance company, file a complaint with the Texas Department of Insurance online.
These do-it-your-self tips are especially important because Texas doesn’t require residential contractors to get a license.
Louisiana, which, unfortunately for them, has greater experience with criminal contractors after storms, does require a license to avoid these fly-by-nighters.
This is the worst time to take advantage of somebody. If you know someone who is facing a big cleanup, please share this with them. Remind them they are not powerless. They can’t afford to be.
Source: Dallas Morning News