Q: What advice does the BBB have when hiring a contractor for repair and construction requirements during these difficult times?
A: Now is a time to be very cautious while hiring a contractor to assist with repair or rebuild of a home damaged as result of the tornado destruction. It is critical that you as a homeowner try to minimize the emotional aspect of the event and conduct research when selecting a contractor.
The next several months will continue to be difficult with high levels of anxiety. It is most important to find a contractor you can trust. Better Business Bureau recommends following this due diligence checklist before choosing a contractor.
In 2011, BBB received more than 6,000 complaints against general contractors, up 11 percent from the previous year. While there are many trustworthy and reliable contractors in the marketplace, there are always those unscrupulous few that end up charging
too much, doing too little, or simply not meeting the terms of a contract.
When natural disasters occur, "storm chasers" become a concern in the marketplace. Be especially wary of doing business with a contractor who solicits business door-to-door. This could mean that the contractor is not from a local, established business and is instead just passing through and trying to scam innocent consumers.
First, contact your insurance company and have it assess the damage and give an estimate for repairs. Make photographs and, if possible take video of the damage. You may require this data as you work with the insurance company. Insurance companies may refer contractors to you for consideration; it is important to know what your policy covers.
Secondly, follow a due diligence checklist before choosing a home contractor:
• BBB rating and report. Check out a company's BBB business review report. This report will provide a grade rating and information concerning complaint history. Search at www.chattanooga.bbb.org , or telephone 423-266-6144 and enter the company's telephone number to receive the business review report over the telephone. If needed, the menu system option No. 9 rolls to an operator. If you require further assistance, call 423-266-0396.
• Cost comparison. Be picky and have lots of options. Seek at least three bids from prospective contractors based on the same specifications, materials and labor needed to complete the project. Homeowners should discuss bids in detail with each contractor and ask questions about variations in pricing. The lowest-priced contractor may not be the best.
• References. Family, friends and neighbors are great references. As you consider a contractor, require references from previous jobs. Three is a good number and check them out before signing a contract. Assure that the contractor is bonded to protect you against damage and theft.
• Licensing. Make sure they are certified and insured. Consumers should ask if the company is insured against claims covering workers' compensation, property damage and personal liability in case of accidents.
Consumers should obtain the name of the insurance carrier and call to verify coverage.
Ask whether the contractor meets licensing and bonding requirements set by the state, county or city. Check with local authorities to find out whether permits are needed before proceeding with the work. The contractor should obtain all appropriate permits.
• Written Contract. Before work starts, have a signed, written detail contract including specific work, warranty information, and start date and completion date. Require the contractor to provide a lien waiver upon completion of the job.
A lien waiver is a statement by the contractor that all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid for their work. Read and understand the contract before signing. Get all verbal promises in writing. Ask questions about the contract if something is not understood.
• Remember the rule of thirds and follow it. Pay a third at the start of the project, a third when work is 50 percent completed and a third after completion. Pay by check or credit card and keep a record of payments.
Consumers may request the current 2012 BBB "Buyers Guide" directory to be mailed to you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org , or telephone 423-266-0396 and request a copy.
BBB also has business review reports on more than 100,000 general contractors across North America, available free at www.bbb.org/search.
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 e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com