By Kelly Sargent
Having left a $4 billion path of destruction in Iowa alone, the storm on August 10 was one for the books. Like many of you, nobody here at Tucker Law had heard of a derecho . . . that is until we were almost blown away by one.
Although we're hoping you escaped damage, some of you may still be in the process of trying to find a tree service, roofer or contractor to help you put things to rights.
Here are a few tips and red flags from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller to keep in mind when you consider hiring someone to do the work.
Be wary of storm chasers.
Be suspicious of tree removal, cleanup and home repair workers who show up at your door unbidden. They might be storm chasers — individuals who are constantly on the move from one disaster to another. Some of them might be trustworthy, but the problem is they're transient. You're likely to be unable to reach them if the work turns out to be unsatisfactory . . . if their 'fix' needs a fix.
Do your homework before doing your home work.
Research reputable, local businesses before you contact them. Even if it's not a long-established business, a local company will be much more motivated to do what you've hired them to do to protect their reputation because they live here.
Check out whoever you're considering.
Ask for and check local references before you sign a contract give anyone any money. You can check on complaints through Attorney General Miller's office and with the Better Business Bureau and check to see whether whoever it is you're considering has been sued by customers through Iowa Courts Online. You can also check on a contractor’s registration and bonding at the Iowa Division of Labor website. Ask for a copy of the contractor's liability insurance certificate.
Make sure you have verifiable contact information.
Get the company's address, phone number and email. Contractors who don’t provide a local phone number and a local physical address (not a post office box) are probably not local. Check the numbers by calling. It's also not a bad idea to write down the license plate number and vehicle description, or take a picture of the vehicle and plate, and keep the information for your records just in case.
Getting several written estimates.
The cost of work can vary considerably from company to company, so get more than one estimate, Compare and choose the best one for you which may mean taking more than just the price into account, factors such as availability, materials and guarantees.
Get a contract in writing.
Before work begins, get a written contract and don’t forget to read it — detailing the price, payment terms, exact scope of the work, brand and/or specifications of the materials to be used, who is responsible for permits, start and completion dates and remedies if the contractor fails to meet deadlines. For example, the contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time.
Understand your insurance.
If you’re filing an insurance claim to cover the costs of damages, negotiate the details with your insurance company directly and not through a contractor. Understand what your insurance provider will cover before you sign a contract.
Explore financing options.
It’s usually safer and a better deal to get financing through your local bank or credit union rather than a contractor.
Know your right to cancel.
If you sign a contract somewhere other than the contractor's regular place of business, such as at your home, you have three business days to cancel the contract without penalty.
Avoid paying large sums or the entire job up front.
If you need to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a "mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor.
As always, we're just a phone call away. Let us know if we can help.
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