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When a big storm hits, your life and home can take a serious beating. So can your wallet. As certain as it is that severe weather can cause property damage, so too is the certainty that traveling repair crews will descend offering emergency repair services. Don’t let disaster strike twice. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommends doing your research to avoid getting ripped off.

Finding a trustworthy contractor to repair your roof, gutters, windows, or flooded property isn’t always easy. Storm chasers, door-to-door home repair salesmen and water damage companies often peddle dubious deals that can cost homeowners thousands of dollars and create serious headaches. In fact, many storm chasers leave more damage in their wake than the storm itself.

Homeowners research the trustworthiness of contractors with the BBB more than any other industry – over three million times annually in the mid-Atlantic region alone. This is for good reason: There are a few bad apples in the home contractor barrel. There are also many honest, reliable and well-established home repair contractors. So, how do you know the difference? It is all about actions not empty promises.

Start your search with the BBB. In addition to business reviews on tens of thousands of contractors — good and bad — across the mid-Atlantic region, you can also rely on the BBB’s Accredited Business Locator www.bbb.org/us/bbb-accredited-businesses to find trustworthy contractors in your area. BBB accredited contractors have pledged to uphold the BBB’s standards for trust and are contractually obligated to resolve all complaints filed with the BBB. Go to www.mybbb.org.

Review the contractor carefully. Verify the business meets all state and local requirements including being licensed, insured and/or bonded. Also ask the business for references from recent jobs. Confirm whether or not the contractor will be subcontracting the job (or any part of it) or relying on his or her own employees. Also find out if they are part of an industry association, like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Beware of storm chasers. In the wake of a storm, fly-by-night repair businesses will solicit work, often door-to-door, in unmarked trucks. They might require advance payment and make big promises that they won’t deliver. Find out if they are local or from out of state. If they are from out of the area, inquire about how warranty issues will be handled. Also find out where their main office is located. If they say it’s out of their truck, think twice.

Get at least three bids. Beware of lowball estimates that may potentially balloon over time or foreshadow shoddy work to come. You should also know that if you are going to rely on your insurance to cover the cost of damages, the insurance company will generally want to assess damage before major repairs begin.

Recognize the red flags. Beware of any contractor that uses high-pressure sales tactics or requires full payment upfront. Remember the rule of thirds: one third at the start of the project, one third when it is half-way done and the final third after the job is completed. Also avoid contractors that require you to get the necessary permits.

Make sure everything is in writing. Make sure that the full scope of the work is explained in the contract, including cleanup and disposal of waste. All verbal agreements need to be included in the written agreement. Pay close attention to the payment terms, estimated price of materials and labor, and any warranties or guarantees. In addition, if the contractor will provide a lien of waiver (also called a release of liens clause) upon completion of the job, make sure it is in writing. A lien of waiver is a statement that all suppliers and subcontractors will be paid –so that these parties do not come after you if the general contractor fails to pay them.

(From a BBB press release.)