published Friday, July 12th, 2013

Biz Bulletin: Rain brings potential repair risks to consumers

By Jim Winsett
BBB Chief Exective Jim Winsett
BBB Chief Exective Jim Winsett
Leigh Shelle Hunt

Q: With all the rain we got over this past weekend, my house and car received minor flooding damage. Does the BBB have tips on who to hire to fix my problem?

A: It has been a rainy few days and with more to come in the forecast, BBB wants to make you aware of potential dangers left as the water recedes.

People who live in flood-prone areas should be cautious as they attempt to return home. Murky floodwaters can mask dangers to those who attempt to drive or walk through them, and moving water can sweep away a person or car. The news has stories of locals who got caught in rapid flood waters, homes that filled with water, and cars that were swept by flash floods in the area.

On top of being safe, these disasters are bound to crop up scammers looking to make a quick buck. Fly-by-night contractors may offer "deals" to those desperate to repair damaged homes and businesses, then fail to carry out the work.

Shady contractors also may be canvassing damaged areas. The BBB has the following tips for hiring contractors:

• Be cautious of door-to-door salespeople who use high-pressure sales tactics.

• Seek at least three bids from prospective contractors based on the same specifications, materials and labor needed to complete the project. Homeowners should discuss bids in detail with each contractor and ask questions about variations in pricing. The lowest-priced contractor may not be the best. Also, keep in mind to pay by the rule of thirds: 30 percent upfront for the deposit and materials, 30 percent at the halfway point, then the last third once the job is done correctly to the letter of the contract.

• Consumers should ask whether the company is insured against claims covering workers' compensation, property damage and personal liability in case of accidents. Consumers should obtain the name of the insurance carrier and call to verify coverage. Also, ask whether the contractor meets licensing and bonding requirements set by the state, county, or city.

• Ask to see the ID of anyone who wants to come in. Check out any company with whom you think you want to do business at www.bbb.org. Check trucks and cars for company name, local addresses and phone numbers.

• Check with local authorities to find out whether permits are needed before proceeding with the work. The contractor also should be aware of any required permits.

• Ask whether the contractor will provide a lien waiver upon completion of the job. A lien waiver is a statement by the contractor that all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid for their work.

• Read and understand the contract before signing. Get any verbal promises in writing. Include start and completion dates in the contract.

• Before you give out your personal information, make sure it is absolutely necessary and ask for identification.

• Be on the alert for scams. Advance-fee credit arrangements, where you are required to pay a fee for a credit card or some other line of credit before you receive it, are illegal.

• Don't believe great promises. No one is getting something for nothing.

• Shop around. Some businesses advertise "disaster" sales offering appliances and major electronics at reduced prices. While these could be bargains, they also could be gimmicks or the products may have hidden damage that may not be known until later.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@timesfreepress.com.

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