Winsett: Check contractors, storm relief charities

Winsett: Check contractors, storm relief charities

May 13th, 2011 By Jim Winsett in Business Around the Region

Q: What advice and warnings does BBB have for homeowners regarding tornado and storm-related destruction?

A: Your home and wallet may take a serious beating as a result of the recent storms and tornadoes that struck our area.

Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be wary of fly-by-night "storm chasers," as well as fraudulent charities promising to provide relief.

Storm chasers and other door-to-door salespeople often peddle dubious deals that may cost homeowners thousands of dollars and create serious headaches. BBB recommends doing your research to avoid getting taken advantage of by untrustworthy home contractors, roofing companies, tree cutting and removal businesses, etc.

BBB encourages consumers to aid those in need. In general we are a benevolent group and want to assist in the recovery of our community. BBB Wise Give Alliance urges donors to check trustworthy charities before making any donations.

Not only do consumers need to be concerned about avoiding fraud, they also need to make sure their money goes to competent relief organizations that are equipped and experienced to handle the unique challenges of providing assistance.

Many storm victims in our community need and are seeking the services of contractors who will assist them in recovery from storm damage. They do no need to be concerned about avoiding fraud and scams as they look for this help.

It is important to employ services of a reputable accredited business. Additionally, as neighbors and the community wish to donate money and volunteer services, it is imperative they find charities they can trust and those that are capable of delivering on promises.

When looking for a contractor you can trust and when seeking to give to relief efforts, BBB recommends that homeowners and donors do the following:

• Start Your Search with BBB. In addition to offering Business Reviews on tens of thousands of contractors - good and bad - across the U.S., you also can rely on BBB's local Web page, www.Chattanooga.BBB.org, to find trustworthy contractors in your area. BBB accreditation standards require that accredited businesses make a good-faith effort to resolve disputes.

• Find trustworthy charities. BBB Wise Giving Alliance urges donors to make sure their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help those in need.

Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they might not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. Be wary of door-to-door solicitations; the intent may be good, but the ability to deliver on services may not.

Interested donors should visit www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

• Recognize the red flags. Beware of any contractor who uses high-pressure sales tactics or requires full payment upfront. Also avoid contractors who require you to get the necessary permits.

When looking to make a donation, be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. In response to the previous natural disasters, there were concerns raised about many websites and new organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims.

• Vet the contractor carefully. Verify the business meets all state and local requirements including being licensed, insured and bonded. Also, ask the business for references from recent jobs. Confirm whether the contractor will be subcontracting the job or using its own employees.

• 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 on which they will not be able to deliver.

• Seek at least three bids. Beware of low-ball estimates that may potentially balloon over time or foreshadow shoddy work to come.

• 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 oral 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.

For more advice on hiring home professionals and for finding a charity you can trust, visit us online at www.bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-home and BBB Wise Give Alliance at www.bbb.org/charity.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@timesfreepress.com.