Question: “My home was damaged by the floods and I need to hire a contractor. What steps should I take?”
Answer: After a disaster hits your area, you may discover that your damaged home or business may need extensive repair or demolition. Insurance settlements and relief from the federal government to property owners can provide con artists with opportunities to profit unfairly.
As you consider hiring a contractor, there are certain warning signs to watch for to ensure you don’t become the victim of a scam. For instance, beware of door-to-door contractors who use high-pressure or scare tactics to get an immediate decision. Don’t do business with someone who comes to your door offering a bargain or claims to have left-over material for cheap. Plus, make sure you get at least three written bids – and don’t always choose the lowest bidder! Nearly all of the complaints to the local DA’s office are about contractors who gave very low bids (you get what you pay for).
It’s important to deal only with licensed and insured contractors. You can check on a contractor’s reputation through the local Better Business Bureau and Home Builders Association. They will let you know if any complaints have been lodged against a contractor you’re considering.
When deciding whether to hire a contractor, you should also get a written estimate that includes all promises made by them. Before getting that estimate, however, ask if there’s a charge for the first appraisal step. Require the contractor to use a written contract that lists materials, costs and the completion date.
Signing a contract should not be a rushed process – take your time! Ask for price variations, but don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder. A deposit of one-third of the total price is standard. You should pay that by check or credit card – not cash – then pay the final amount only after the work is completed to your satisfaction.
Before you sign a contract, it’s best to have a knowledgeable friend, relative or attorney review it. Get a copy of the final contract before the job begins.
If you did not take some of the above precautions and believe you may have been the victim of a contractor fraud, contact your local District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit. You can also call the CBA Flood Legal Relief Helpline to be paired with a volunteer attorney who can answer basic questions and provide brief advice: 1-855-424-5347. IF you have received FEMA money for the repairs, contact FEMA’s fraud helpline to report the scam.
The Colorado Bar Association welcomes your questions on subjects of general interest. The column is meant to be used as general information. Consult your own attorney for specifics. Send questions to CBA attn: Heather Clark, 1900 Grant St., Suite 900, Denver, CO 80203 or e-mail email@example.com.