published Friday, March 9th, 2012

Winsett: Storms bring out best and worst in people

Jim Winsett

Q: What advice does the BBB have for victims of the recent tornado damage?

A: The Better Business Bureau reminds those who experience storm damage to take certain precautions when cleaning up and making repair decisions.

Natural disasters like tornados can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, crises also bring out people who choose to take advantage of the victims.

Some of the most common "after-disaster" scams involve your auto, home and yard repairs or cleanup. The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to homeowners who suffer auto and property damage in the wake of a natural disaster:

• Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.

• Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you.

Do not be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be proactive in selecting a company and not reactive to sales solicitations.

Make temporary repairs if necessary.

• For major repairs, take time to shop around and get three to four estimates based on the same specifications and materials.

Check out references that are at least a year old, verify in Tennessee at www.TN.gov/commerce, telephone 615-741-2241, and in Georgia www.sos.ga.gov, telephone 478-207-2440 that companies are required to be licensed/registered to do work in your area.

• Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a job "down the street" or who do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go do-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits.

• Be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.

• Require a detail written contract agreement with anyone you hire.

It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.

Be sure their name, address, license number -- if applicable -- and phone number along with a start and end date for the work are included in contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety, do not sign a blank contract, and a copy of the signed contract is to be given to you at time of signature.

• Once you have found a contractor, request proof of a current insurance certificate covering workers' compensation, property damage and personal liability.

• Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash! While many companies may ask for a deposit, BBB suggests that no more one-third of the job be paid upfront. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor.

Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Start with trust. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and business reviews you can trust on local companies, visit www.Chattanooga.bbb.org or call 423-266-6144 and enter the business telephone number and receive its business review report over the telephone. For BBB assistance, call 423-266-0396.

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