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Every week, join Sydney Waters as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: Hiring a Contractor for Emergency Work

Large white oak tree punctures roof on house
AwakenedEye/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Large white oak tree punctures roof on house

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.

Tips to consider when hiring contractors for emergency work:

Call your insurance company first. Contact your insurance company to determine what coverage will be provided and if there are any restrictions or conditions before finalizing a contract with a repair service.

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 lien waiver is 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. Request a receipt marked “Paid in Full” when the job is completed and your final payment is made.

Keep your contract. Hold on to your contract for future reference or if any questions arise after the work is complete.

Sydney Waters is the new Regional Director of Better Business Bureau in Cape Girardeau and responsible for outreach efforts in Southern Illinois and Eastern and Southwest Missouri.