Editor and Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post
In the aftermath of the gale-force winds that struck the Chicago area on Friday, there are sure to be home repair scammers making the rounds.
As a public service, we are reprinting a Better Business Bureau press release issued almost a year ago, but which contains some excellent advice.
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In some cases [in the aftermath of severe weather],
homeowners will need assistance to fix problems. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to use caution in selecting contractors to make repairs.
“Along with the damage, natural disasters also bring scam artist,” says Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “These scammers are known as ‘storm chasers’ and are a real threat; they rip-off consumers with promises of great work at cheap prices.”
Going door to door they’ll make offers of roof and siding repair, removal of downed trees and damaged landscaping even auto repair.
Bernas notes, “If anyone comes to your door offering to begin work on damage, take their information and tell them that you will follow up if you are interested in using them for repairs.”
If your property has been damaged as a result of severe weather, the BBB offers these tips before choosing a contractor:
• When approached by a contractor, ask for proof of licensing and bonding.
• Try to get at least 3-4 quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.
• Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full payment up front.
• Do not hire people who show up at your door offering services such as tree or debris removal and roof repair.
• Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.
• Check out the company first with the BBB at bbb.org and deal only with reputable local contractors.
• Get a written contract that specifies the price and the work to be done and a time frame. In Illinois state law requires a written contract with all costs enumerated for home repair or remodeling work over $1,000.
• Prices are often high in the immediate aftermath of a storm. Buy only the services that are necessary to make your home safe and habitable. Wait at least a few days to hire other contractors because the rates are likely to drop.
• Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem. Otherwise, pay by check. Never pay in cash.
• Check that the contractor’s vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name and phone number.
• Be sure that all promises made are put in writing.
Bernas cautions that consumers should never sign a blank or
partially blank contract. “Make sure all oral promises are put in writing. Be wary of vaguely worded provisions, exclusions or limitations which could pose a problem later,” Additionally he notes, “In Illinois a contract is required for all repairs totaling more than one thousand dollars."
Typically, a down payment of one-third the total contract price is made with additional payments due after completion of each phase of work. Final payment should not be made until the job is completed and you have inspected the work.
Before signing any home improvement contract consider the following tips from the BBB:
• Research for details and free information on contractors you can trust at bbb.org and consider using the BBB’s free online service eQuote to obtain estimates, proposals or general information from BBB Accredited contractors.
• Get all estimates in writing.
• Never sign a contract with blank spaces or one you do not fully understand.
• Homeowners should check with local and county units of government to determine if permits or inspections are required.
• Determine whether the contractor has the proper insurance.