Everyone requires the service of a contractor to work in or around their home from time to time, especially after storm damage. You may need your home painted or your roof replaced or repaired. Perhaps a tree fell in your yard or needs to be removed. Even contracting regular lawn service requires a little homework. Many of our members hire contractors as part of a home insurance claims process. Catastrophes, especially after a severe weather event, increase the opportunity for fraud and abuse in home repair claims. We know the difficulty our members experience with vetting the right business. Whether it's a small job or a major restoration, we also know how important it is to take the time to do it thoroughly. We're here to help!
If you have an insurance claim
If you think you may have a home insurance claim, it's best to contact your carrier right away and before hiring a contractor. After a weather event, it's not uncommon for drive-by contractors to solicit property owners to do repairs. You may feel pressure or urgency to have work done, but it's best to decide with your claims adjuster. If you have damage that requires immediate attention, report the incident to your independent agent or insurance carrier, and take pictures. Then complete repairs needed to temporarily protect your home and save all receipts. Go through your home inventory and make notes of damaged items.
Work with licensed and insured contractors
In Virginia, home improvement and repair businesses should be licensed to meet state requirements for minimum competency. You should look up licenses for any contractor and research any past issues.
It's also essential to verify the business has liability insurance. One of our members hired a local tree service company to remove a large dead tree in their yard. The owner claimed to be insured and provided a bogus insurance certificate. When the tree fell on their fence during the removal, the contractor could not pay for the damage. It became our member's claim on their home insurance policy. Ask for the name and contact information of the contractor's insurance and verify with a phone call.
After a major storm, you may be sharing your personal information with government officials, financial institutions, insurance personnel such as adjusters as well as contractors and repairmen as you work to recover and repair your property. Stay alert and ask for identification of these individuals before providing your personal information. Ask to see the contractor's driver's license and snap a picture with your phone to document his or her identity. Take one of the license plate numbers as well. It's good to have in case of a problem down the road. Then, contact the company or organization the individual is representing and verify their identity before you provide personal or financial information. Send your information securely.
Get more than one estimate
At least three detailed estimates allow you to see the work scope and often reveal the contractor's experience and craft. Estimates should itemize materials and labor required and should be comparable. It should include cost, payment schedules, and guarantees. It's also a great start to a bigger conversation around your project, including start and finish dates.
Get and check references
Online reviews and personal referrals are the best way to find out the contractor's track record. You can check their reviews on Google. Many businesses have Facebook pages that will verify their reputation, quality of work, and customer service. It's also a good idea to ask for referrals and to speak directly with past customers.
Watch the fine print
You've decided on the right contractor and are ready to agree on the work to be done. Licensed contractors are required by law to provide a written contract signed by both parties. Be sure you understand everything on the contract, especially the fine print, and make sure there are no blank spaces. Draw a line through empty fields and get a copy immediately for your records.
A reputable contractor should be able to pay for materials to start work. Some may expect to pay a partial down payment upfront, usually 10% or $1000 of the total project cost, whichever is less. Custom items may require a higher deposit.
Permits, code, and specifications
Your contractor is responsible for adhering to all applicable Virginia building codes. They should obtain necessary permits and schedule inspections throughout the project in their name. It's a major red flag if they don't or recommend you skip this step. These requirements and inspections meet minimum safety standards determined by the Virginia Department of Housing. They don't take the place of regularly checking the quality of workmanship or for the use of inferior materials.
Once your project is done, you should plan for a final review. This important step involves reviewing the final results and signing off on the work. It's vital to make sure code inspections and requirements are met before you sign a completion certificate. Pay your remaining balance when the job is done according to the contract, and codes are satisfied.