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After A DisasterSpotting and Documenting Storm DamageJust had a storm blow through your town? Here Stephen Hadhazi, a public insurance adjuster and publisher of DocuDamage.com, an educational consumer website, offers his top tips on how to spot and document storm damage.Securing a Damaged HomeHere's what to do to safeguard your home after a storm or disaster.Safely Reentering an Evacuated HomeBe safe, be smart. If you've been displaced, all you may be able to think about is getting back home. Wait!Replacing Valuable DocumentsHere is contact information for replacing documents and records that have been damaged, destroyed or lost.Rebuilding and Renovating a Damaged HomeAny form of construction can be a lengthy process. Here are some starter tips to get started. Moving Back Home After a DisasterWhile it's very difficult to do, think of this as an extremely extended camping trip as you cope over the next few weeks and months.How to Choose a Contractor or RestorerHiring a contractor or a restorer can be costly, but professionals may be the best way to remove water and mold and get the job done right. Plus, professional restorers can provide helpful hints to prevent further damage.Home Repair and Renovation Steps to FollowFollow these steps to make sure your post-disaster restoration or rebuilding project is done right the first time.Documenting Fire and Storm DamageIf possible, document the internal and external damage ASAP. Talk with recovery officials regarding safety issues you should be aware of - safety first! - as well as key areas/items you should take pictures of.Cleaning Your Home After a Fire or StormAfter your insurance company representative has assessed the damage, you need to make a decision regarding the cleaning of your home and possessions.Home Safety After a DisasterWhat to know about utility service after a disaster.

How to Choose a Contractor or Restorer

Hiring a contractor or a restorer can be costly, but professionals may be the best way to remove water and mold and get the job done right. Plus, professional restorers can provide helpful hints to prevent further damage.

Once a loss occurs it is important to secure the property from further damage. Either you or the insurer can hire the services of a general contractor or a fire and water damage restoration company. These firms provide a range of services that may include some or all of the following:

Securing the site against further damage

Estimating structural damage

Repairing structural damage

Estimating the cost to repair or renew items of personal property

Packing, transportation, and storing household items

Securing appropriate cleaning or repair subcontractors

Storing repaired items until needed

Deopending on your circumatnces and scope of damage, you may need all or some of the above service. You may also need 24- hour emergency service. Ask for an estimates before deciding on a service.

Here are questions to ask before you hire and tips to avoid home improvement fraud.

Choosing a Contractor or Restorer

Get recommendations from family, friends, neighbors and others. Ask about problems encountered before, during and after the project was completed and how the contractor handled the situation.

Check with the Better Business Bureau and local trade unions and associations about the reputation of the contractors in your area.

Consider your budget, timeline and insurance options before meeting with the contractor.

Pick a few key questions from the following list to ask contractors over the phone. This will save you time and help you narrow down your list.

Company Name __________________________________________
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E-mail _____________________________________________________

Company Name __________________________________________
Contact Name ____________________________________________
Web site _________________________________________________
Phone ____________________________________________________
E-mail _____________________________________________________

Company Name __________________________________________
Contact Name ____________________________________________
Web site _________________________________________________
Phone ____________________________________________________
E-mail _____________________________________________________

Make an appointment to meet with your top choices.

Contacting a Contractor or Restorer

Questions To Ask

  • Are you a residential contractor?
  • Do you provide the services for the work I need done?
  • How many years of experience do you have?
  • Will you be billing my insurance company or me?
  • How long will it take you to provide me with an estimate for the cost to repair or renew personal property? What is the expected fee for the estimate?

WHN Tip: Most remodelers will charge for the time they spend preparing a detailed written estimate. The cost will vary depending on the scope and complexity of the project. Consider getting at least two or three estimates, in order to compare contractors and projects.

  • What kind of materials will you be using for the project?
  • Can I see a breakdown list of costs (i.e. labor, insurance, materials, overhead)?
  • Will the estimate detail the plans and specifications?
  • This will allow you to compare several estimates based on identical project specifications.
  • Can you arrange for the packing, transportation and/or storage of household items?
  • Can you provide me with references?

WHN Staff Tip: But Are They Good?
Be sure to follow up and contact the references. Ask about the job quality and trustworthiness of the contractor. Ask about problems that were encountered and how they were resolved.

  • Do you have special training in
    Mold remediation?
    Water removal?
  • Do you have experience with flooding, natural disasters or fires (if applicable)?
  • Do you have experience dealing with insurance adjusters and companies?
  • How long before you will be able to begin work?
  • How quickly can you have a crew onsite to board up the site and, if needed, set up temporary heat, plumbing and electricity?
  • Is your company bonded?
  • Is your company state licensed?

WHN Expert Tip: State Licensing Requirements
Fourteen states do not require licensing for home improvement contractors; 36 states require home improvement contractors to be licensed. Check with your state licensing agency, local building inspectors or consumer protection officials to find out about licensing requirements in your area.

  • Do you carry the following types of insurance?
    Personal liability?
    Worker's compensation?
    Property damage?

WHN Reader Tip: No Insurance Policies?
Avoid doing business with contractors who don't carry these insurance policies. Otherwise, you'll be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project. Ask to see proof of insurance.

  • Can you provide a Certificate of Liability Insurance verifying that you carry liability insurance?
  • Will you arrange for any subcontractors for cleaning or repairing, and guarantee in writing that they are licensed, insured and experienced?
  • Will you apply for the appropriate permits from the local building department?
  • Is your work guaranteed or does it have a warranty? For how long? (Most will guarantee their work for at least a year.)
  • What is the method and schedule of payment?

WHN Tip: Typically you pay a deposit when you sign the contract, at regularly and pre-designated intervals, when you sign a change order and order a custom-made item.

  • When will you expect the final payment?

WHN Tip: Usually, the final payment isn't made or the affidavit of final release isn't signed until you are satisfied with the work and have proof that subcontractors and suppliers have been paid. Otherwise, lien laws may allow unpaid subcontractors and suppliers to "attach" your home through a "mechanic's lien". Always ask the contractor, and every subcontractor and supplier, for a lien release or lien waiver.

WHN Reader Tip: In Writing
Get all agreements in writing. Make sure they state that projects will meet code standards.

Contract Components

WHN Tip: Designate one family member to sign contracts and make any decisions when dealing with contractors.

Contractor's name

Company address and phone

License number, if required

The payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractor and suppliers

The estimated start and completion dates

The cancellation policy

The policy and procedure regarding change orders (a written agreement to change the work described in the original contract. Remodelers often require payment for change orders before the work begins.)

A detailed list of what work will and will not be performed

Any verbal agreements. In most circumstances, oral contracts are as enforceable as written agreements. Oral contracts related to real property are an exception to this rule. Still, try to get everything in writing.

Signs of Home Improvement Fraud

While home improvement fraud can encompass any area, fraudulent contractors usually target homeowners who need roofing, furnace or driveway repairs. Beware if you hear any of the following:

An offer of something for nothing, or free merchandise.

Pressure to act now.

An offer of a kickback (a lower price or reduced fee) for referring potential clients.

A seller who criticizes his/her own merchandise or another seller's merchandise.

A contract with vague or tricky wording.

The seller's spoken promises are different from the contract.

Exaggerated claims or lavish promises.

Demand for full payment before work is completed.

Unwillingness to provide written estimate and contract, or failure to include the costs of products and labor, the quality of materials used and the start-up and completion dates

How to Avoid Fraud

Get recommendations from friends, neighbors, and coworkers who have had remodeling work done, and check out the contractor with the Better Business Bureau and state and local consumer protection officials.

Get at least three estimates and when comparing estimates, make sure each one is based on the same set of plans and specifications and the same scope of work, with deviations presented as options.

Keep a paper trail of all communications with the contractor.

Write a letter or an e-mail that includes the items discussed, what the contractor said, what you said, the agreed terms and next steps of the project.

Keep a copy for yourself and send the letter to the contractor/insurance agent/adjuster.

Ask the contractor/agent/adjuster to write a written response to your letter and confirm or disagree with what you have written. That way, you'll have a paper/e-mail trail of the project. Remember, save all documents and emails.

If you get a loan for your home improvement project, you should have the lender make the check out to you, not the contractor.

If you use your home as security for a home improvement loan, and you don't repay the loan as agreed, the lender can take your home and sell it, using the proceeds to pay off the loan and any foreclosure costs.

Always get a written contract and take time to make a decision.

Make final payment only when the work is completed to your satisfaction.

If you suspect a repair rip-off, call the consumer division of your state Attorney General or the Federal Trade Commission.

If you suspect fraud, waste, or abuse involving Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance programs, report it to FEMA's Inspector General's Office.

Additional Information

Better Business Bureau 

Restoration Industry Association
Click on ‘"Consumer Information," then the RIA Member Search "LOCATE" button. The Restoration Industry Association (RIA) is the oldest and largest trade association for the cleaning and restoration industry.

Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification
Choose from a variety of topics: cleaning, inspecting and restoration. The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification (IICRC) is a nonprofit certifying body for the flooring inspection, floor covering and specialized fabric cleaning, and disaster restoration industry.

Company Name __________________________________________
Contact Name ____________________________________________
Web site _________________________________________________
Phone ____________________________________________________
E-mail _____________________________________________________

Company Name __________________________________________
Contact Name ____________________________________________
Web site _________________________________________________
Phone ____________________________________________________
E-mail _____________________________________________________

Company Name __________________________________________
Contact Name ____________________________________________
Web site _________________________________________________
Phone ____________________________________________________
E-mail _____________________________________________________

After A DisasterSpotting and Documenting Storm DamageJust had a storm blow through your town? Here Stephen Hadhazi, a public insurance adjuster and publisher of DocuDamage.com, an educational consumer website, offers his top tips on how to spot and document storm damage.Securing a Damaged HomeHere's what to do to safeguard your home after a storm or disaster.Safely Reentering an Evacuated HomeBe safe, be smart. If you've been displaced, all you may be able to think about is getting back home. Wait!Replacing Valuable DocumentsHere is contact information for replacing documents and records that have been damaged, destroyed or lost.Rebuilding and Renovating a Damaged HomeAny form of construction can be a lengthy process. Here are some starter tips to get started. Moving Back Home After a DisasterWhile it's very difficult to do, think of this as an extremely extended camping trip as you cope over the next few weeks and months.How to Choose a Contractor or RestorerHiring a contractor or a restorer can be costly, but professionals may be the best way to remove water and mold and get the job done right. Plus, professional restorers can provide helpful hints to prevent further damage.Home Repair and Renovation Steps to FollowFollow these steps to make sure your post-disaster restoration or rebuilding project is done right the first time.Documenting Fire and Storm DamageIf possible, document the internal and external damage ASAP. Talk with recovery officials regarding safety issues you should be aware of - safety first! - as well as key areas/items you should take pictures of.Cleaning Your Home After a Fire or StormAfter your insurance company representative has assessed the damage, you need to make a decision regarding the cleaning of your home and possessions.Home Safety After a DisasterWhat to know about utility service after a disaster.