How to Avoid Contractor Scams After a Natural Disaster
In the aftermath of a natural disaster everyone’s primary goal is to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that means that abnormal numbers of property owners in the affected area are trying to have necessary repairs done simultaneously.
Industries naturally spread out within an area in a way that meets consumer demands and allows the different businesses/ service providers to maintain profitability. If there are too many service providers and not enough demand, someone goes out of business. If there’s unmet demand, someone new moves in to offer services. After a natural disaster, the local construction industry is overwhelmed and incapable of meeting all the demand, so outsiders move in to pick up the slack.
Unfortunately, labor isn’t the only finite resource in this equation: local hardware stores don’t keep enough lumber in stock to rebuild entire neighborhoods. The combination of high demand and low supply for labor and building materials allow contractors to take advantage of needy homeowners in a variety of ways.
Not only can regular, licensed contractors claim inflated prices due to high demand, and charge desperate homeowners unfairly high rates for repairs, but unqualified repairmen can squeeze into the mix and leave homeowners with dangerously improper or faulty repairs.
Before hiring anyone to do repairs on your house, check their credentials with the Better Business Bureau, your local government, or state attorney general’s office. Be wary of anyone who shows up unsolicited offering to do repairs. FEMA does not vouch for individual contractors, so anyone saying that they’re government-affiliated is lying. Don’t hand out personal information, or pay in full up front.
When you come to terms with a contractor, be sure to have as detailed a contract as possible, with start dates, end dates, and full explanations of the scope of work to be done. Finally, don’t sign the contract until you understand all the language and stipulations of the agreement.
Having your home damaged by a natural disaster is already a difficult challenge to overcome, both financially and emotionally. Your family and livelihood are already vulnerable; adding an expensive scam to the tab could permanently leave the family in financial ruin. It’s so easy to be distracted by the chaos, and focused on moving forward, but it is absolutely critical to keep a careful eye on your wallet and the people you do business with until you an get back on your feet.