The perfect storm in New Jersey. Wildfires in California and Texas. Earthquakes along the Pacific Coast. Hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Flooding rivers caused by spring snow melt in the American Heartland. Mudslides from the Cascades to the Appalachians. Tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri. House fires caused by lightning strikes anywhere from coast to coast. Floods even in our hometown of Nashville…
Natural disasters strike everywhere and consequently, so do scammers.
Scam Artists Thrive on Natural Disaster
Natural disasters attract contractor scams like flies to honey. Every natural disaster brings the need to repair and rebuild. They bring grief and disbelief, too, often leaving homeowners too shocked to think clearly. Bewildered homeowners are exactly who these scammers are looking for. From the foundation of the home to the roof, there’s always someone who says he’ll fix it but their real job is to take your money and run.
Don’t let painter scams turn your personal disaster into an even larger catastrophe. Take the time to use these handy tips to protect yourself from scams when you’re most vulnerable.
Build a Game Plan Based on Trust
Slow down. Breathe. Yes, you want your home back yesterday but rebuilding will take longer than you want it to. Don’t get impatient and make unwise decisions.
Compare estimates from several painting contractors. If one estimate looks too good to be true, it is. Forget about it.
Verify reputations with the local Better Business Bureau.
If your state requires professional licenses of painting companies, check with your state’s licensing agency for the contractor’s company name. Ask the contractor for his license number. Use only licensed and bonded contractors, even it it costs a little more or takes a little longer.
Demand the Letter of the Law
Get written estimates and contracts that will hold up in court. Make sure all contact data is clearly supplied in writing and confirm it before signing the contract – call all phone numbers, look the contractor up on the internet, send them a letter that requires a reply.
Beware price gouging. Increased demand due to emergency doesn’t mean prices will skyrocket. Price gouging is illegal. Report it to your state’s attorney general immediately.
Make sure every written contract includes milestones, deadlines, and payment schedules. Painting scammers know you’ve got a big check from your homeowners insurance company and they want it now. They will tell you they need it to buy materials before they can begin working. Professional contractors with a history of reputable work won’t need money up front; they’ll use their cash reserves or a well-established line of credit to cover these everyday operating expenses. Fly-by-night scammers have nothing and will leave you with nothing, too.
Be Pro-Active; You’re the Boss
Once hired, show up at the job site unexpectedly, unannounced, and at random times. Let them know you are looking over their shoulder. Ask questions and hold them accountable for the entire job.
Retain at least 10% of the job cost as a retainer to make sure all the little details and finishing touches actually get done. Include this in the written contract.
Don’t suffer in silence. If you think you’re being scammed, warn your neighbors, friends, and family. Tell the police, too.
Keep It Local
Use only local contractors, even if it means waiting in line. If it’s a New Orleans, Jersey Shore, or Nashville residential painting company you need, stick with the locals. They know exactly what you’re dealing with because they’re likely dealing with it, too.
Better yet, they’ll still be in town when the dust settles. You’ll see them in church, at the mall, at the kids’ school events, everywhere. The scammers? You won’t see them because they’ll be long gone, preying on the next disaster to hit the headlines.
The Bottom Line
Natural disasters do not discriminate. They hurt everyone, from the rich and famous to the folks next door. The sad reality of losing one’s home to natural disaster is that, no matter what you do, it will take a while for life to return to normal. Quick fixes and rock-bottom prices may seem enticing when living in uncomfortable make-do conditions but don’t fall for a good story from a scam artist.
Scammers don’t discriminate, either. They wrote the book on good stories but all they really want is your money. They prey on your desperation and don’t care how much more miserable they make your rebuilding process. They want your money as quickly as you’ll hand it over and then they’ll be long gone before the paint dries. . . if they even hung around long enough to actually spread some paint in the first place. Patience and due diligence will pay off in the long run.
Stick to these guidelines and you can make sure that your disaster doesn’t turn into a catastrophe.