Make sure you are prepared should disaster strike

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QUINCY — September is National Preparedness Month – a great time to check in and see if there’s anything you need to do to make sure you and your family know what to do in case of an emergency or natural disaster.

Part of being prepared for a disaster is having a plan for repairs to your home or car. The days immediately after a storm or disaster can be overwhelming, but they are an especially critical time for you to do your research carefully and find a trusted contractor.

BBB has received reports after past storms about “fly-by-night” contractors who went door-to-door after storms, offering to help victims clear debris or patch up homes — and then left with the customer’s deposit after doing little or no work. Some couldn’t be reached when consumers wanted refunds or were dissatisfied with the repairs.

Dealing with storm damage is stressful, and it’s understandable to want repairs done quickly, but don’t rush into a decision. Scammers might try to take advantage of your emotions during this stressful time.

BBB recommends you contact your insurance coverage provider and check businesses out with BBB before deciding on a contractor. This can be done even before a storm or disaster happens. BBB Business Profiles can help you see how companies operate, including letter-grade ratings and whether they resolve customer complaints.

Tips to consider when hiring contractors for emergency work:

  • Call your insurance company first to determine what coverage will be provided and if there are any restrictions or conditions before finalizing a contract with a repair service.
  • Research the company. You can search for a contractor’s BBB Business Profile to learn if it’s a BBB Accredited Business, see complaints and read customer reviews. Ask for local references and speak with those customers about their experience and the quality of the work.
  • Watch out for red flags. Be cautious any time a contractor contacts you first, especially after a natural disaster. Avoid cash-only deals, high-pressure sales tactics, high up-front payments and making any payments without a written contract.
  • Shop around. Ask for quotes from multiple businesses for the same criteria. Remember that the lowest bid may not necessarily be the best bid; if one bid is significantly lower than the others, the contractor may be cutting corners or may not understand your work requirements.
  • Get it in writing. Request a detailed, written contract. Do not be pressured into signing an agreement before you are ready, and make sure you read and understand it before signing. The contract should include contact information, start and complete dates, a detailed description of the work to be done, material costs, payment arrangements and warranty information.
  • Verify license and insurance. Confirm that the company you decide to work with has the necessary licenses and insurance to work in your region.
  • Ask about a lien waiver — a statement from your contractor that says all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid for their work.
  • Arrange a payment schedule. For major jobs, never pay in full up front. Stagger your payments so your final payment is not due until the work is complete and you have fully inspected it. Do not pay with cash; use a credit card if possible.
  • Get a receipt marked “Paid in Full” when the job is completed and your final payment is made.
  • Keep your contract for future reference or if any questions arise after the work is complete.

Don O’Brien is the regional director for the Quincy Better Business Bureau. Contact him at dobrien@quincybbb.org or (217) 209-3972.

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