Cowetans deal with aftermath of storms
by Sarah Fay Campbell
The aftermath of damaging storms can be ripe for ripoff artists.
Unsuspecting home owners and vehicle owners have often fallen prey to unscrupulous roofers and fly-by-night vehicle body repair services.
After last week’s damaging hail and winds, plenty of Coweta County area homeowners are now working on getting their roofs and homes repaired, and many cars have lots of dents and dings.
Insurance agents likely have had their phones ringing excessively as storm victims report minor and major damage.
State Farm auto insurance customers have been rolling into the company’s mobile claims center, set up in the parking lot of Lowe’s on Bullsboro Drive. Vehicle owners make an appointment to get their vehicle inspected. After the inspection, the information is uploaded into State Farm’s computer system, an estimate is generated and, in most cases, customers leave with a check for the repairs.
The National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud and the Georgia Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner, as well as various insurance companies, are offering tips to help Georgians avoid getting ripped off.
“First, contact your insurance agent and let them know you have damage,” said Phae Howard of the National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud.
Most people have probably already done that after last week’s storms.
There are plenty of red flags to watch out for. “Contractors will try to tell you they will fill out your insurance forms for you, or they will pay your deductible or waive your deducible. Those are huge red flags for fraud,” Howard said.
Homeowners may think they are about to get a really great deal. “What they don’t realize is, they are a party, albeit an unwilling party, to fraud,” she said.
Property owners should contact their agents even before they try to make a claim, she said.
Another thing to watch out for is a request for money up front.
“I’m not giving anybody I don’t know any money up front,” Howard said. “If it’s about getting supplies, then why can’t I make the check out to the supply company?”
What many people may not realize is that, even though they may pay their contractor in full, if he doesn’t pay the suppliers and subcontractors, “they can file liens on your home,” Howard said.
Some sources say it is OK to prepay up to 10 percent of the job or $1,000, whichever is less, but Howard doesn’t agree with that policy. There are very few legitimate reasons to pay for anything up front, she said. “A legitimate contractor should have credit relationships with suppliers,” she said.
And don’t pay in full until the job is complete, or it may never be completed.
“He who controls the money controls the job,” Howard said. “You always have to stay five steps ahead of the contractor in order to make sure he gets the job done.”
She recommends having a contract for every job — no matter how small. And read the contract. In its entirety.
“You don’t want to sign anything you don’t understand,” Howard said. That means estimates, as well. “Read the fine print.”
It’s always a good idea to get multiple estimates from different contractors on any project.
Unfortunately, too many property owners are in such a rush to get their house or car fixed or to get things back to normal that they don’t take the time to protect themselves.
“With disaster victims, they are always in a rush to get back to normal. That can get them into a lot of trouble,” Howard said.
Howard said another goal of her organization is to cut down on miscommunication between property owners and contractors.
“There are a lot of good legitimate contractors and service people out there,” Howard said. “But there are bad guys, too. We want to help homeowners cut down on the frequent miscommunication between them and legitimate contractors, because that can cause problems, too,” she said. When a homeowner doesn’t understand something, “they probably will take more of a defensive position,” she added. “If they understand the process, I think that will really help them get a better understanding of what the contractor is and is not doing.”
It’s important to do emergency repairs, especially to your house, in order to prevent any further damage — especially since that damage usually isn’t covered by your insurance policy.
But after that is done, take the time to do things right.
Be sure to keep receipts, and document any temporary repairs. For that matter, be sure to take photos of damage before repairs.
And “do not dispose of damaged property until it is examined by the insurance adjuster,” said Glenn Allen with the Georgia Office of Insurance.
Some damage may not be immediately apparent. “Check patio covers, screens, windows and soft aluminum roofs for hail damage,” said Daniel Groce of Allstate. Be careful when checking your roof, and consider using binoculars to look for hail damage.
Following hail storms and other damaging weather, out-of-town roofing companies may arrive. Howard recommends dealing locally.
“They are easier to find if something goes wrong,” Howard said. “If you have a contractor from out of town and your roof leaks two weeks later, what are the chances of that contractor coming back?”
Dealing locally also helps put money back into the local economy.
Groce recommends that people talk to family and friends to help find a reliable, local contractor.
In declared states of emergency, the city of Newnan has an ordinance that requires out-of-town contractors to register with the city and pay a fee before doing work inside the city limits. That applies to not only out-of-state companies but also to those outside Coweta and even those inside Coweta but outside the city of Newnan. The requirements only apply during a declared state of emergency and the recovery period from that emergency.
Coweta County doesn’t currently have such an ordinance but is considering one, said Tom Corker, communications manager. For more tips, visit www.ncphif.org and www.oci.ga.gov .