Helpful Tips for SC Flood Victims
We have gathered from several sources helpful information to aid those seeking assistance from insurance companies, contractors and the government due to the historical flood in South Carolina. Below is some of the information collected for your benefit.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions regarding the legalities and process of insurance claims or contractor responsibilities.
Courtesy of www.ColumbiaBuilders.com:
There are thousands of legitimate, ethical contractors in business around the country. Unfortunately, there are also scam artists looking to cheat you out of your money who pose as legitimate contractors. These "fly-by-night" operators often show up in communities impacted by natural disasters to try to scam distressed home owners into paying for shoddy repairs or work that they will never show up to perform.
Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Doesn't have license and insurance. All professional contractors should be insured and able to show their certificate proving such insurance. Although all states do not require licensing, contractors in states requiring licenses should have it and be able to provide a copy.
- Asks you to sign anything before you've hired them. If they want you to sign an "estimate" or "authorization" before you've made the decision to hire the contractor, look out. They may be trying to get you to sign what is an actual binding contract.
- Doesn't write contracts. Professionals have clear contracts that outline the job, process, the cost, and helps clarify how problems will be managed. If you don't have a contract, you are not protected when something goes wrong. Don't hire anyone who tells you a contract "won't be necessary."
- Requires cash or payment in full before starting the job. Shady contractors demand cash and then run with the money. Many home owners have been stranded by paying in full up front. A deposit towards materials is common, but only pay it once you have a contract signed by both you and the contractor. It's also suspect you're asked to pay cash to a salesperson instead of a check or money order to a company.
- Vastly underbids all other contractors. They may have the best price, but that doesn't guarantee the best work. Such contractors may cut costs on quality, which can end up costing you more when you have to have the substandard work redone.
- Offers "special" pricing. If you're told you’ve been “chosen” as a demonstration project at a special, low price, or you’re told a low price is good only if you sign a contract today.
- Cannot provide customer references. Professional contractors should have current references they can provide from current and past clients — and you should be able to reach those references, not just an answering machine.
- Difficulty contacting the contractor. Professionals have a physical office, mailing address, phone, and email. They should respond to your queries in a timely manner. Make sure you can verify the contractor’s business address. If they only have a p.o. box, be wary.
- Tells you to obtain the building or remodeling permits. Professional contractors go to the county or state offices and get permits for their work themselves. Asking the home owner to do it is a sign that they are not a legitimate contractor.
Your best bet is to take your time, do your research and choose someone you feel completely comfortable with. South Carolina requires contractors to be licensed, https://verify.llronline.com/LicLookup/Resbu/Resbu.aspx?div=46 . Make sure they don't have a record of consumer complaints lodged with your local Better Business Bureau. You can also contact the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina for a list of reputable contractors in your area www.columbiabuilders.com.
When Disaster Strikes...
Unfortunately, flooding in South Carolina has caused extensive damage to individual homes, neighborhoods and entire communities. If they involve you and your family, it’s important for you not to make sudden decisions related to extensive repairs if you haven’t done your homework. The information below has been developed to help you get through the situation from start to finish in a well thought-out way.
#1 - Stay Calm. Once the rains end, it’s important for you to be strong and lead your family through this difficult time. Seek out help and support from friends and neighbors as soon as possible. Don’t make rash decisions under pressure.
#2 – Contact Your Insurance Agent BEFORE You Hire any Contractors. Most agencies have a claims center that can be contacted by phone 24/7/365. Seek out their help for next steps – especially if professional help is needed for clean-up and repairs. NEVER sign a contract for work from a company that approached you after the incident without checking references. Also, be sure you’re dealing with a local, licensed, reputable business with the proper insurance versus the first person who approaches you and offers to help. Be very careful about paying any up-front deposits until you’re 100% sure the decision to move forward with the selected contractor is the right one. The Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina (www.columbiabuilders.com) maintains a searchable list of all members with some listed in specific categories related to storm/fire damage and repair.
#3 - Secure Your Property & Recover/Remove Valuables. Even in these dark times, looters can make things worse. If necessary, consider renting a storage unit nearby or have a mobile storage unit brought to your site that you can load. If the damage is too great or the area is too dangerous, seek the help of select professionals through recommendations from your insurance agent, family members, friends, etc. Never work with anyone that tries to pressure you or wants to be paid a big percentage up-front.
#4 – Prevent Further Damage. It’s very important for you not to ignore structures that are repairable. Make a detailed sweep of your home/property to make sure you can prevent additional damage from exposure to the elements. Consult with your insurance agent to see if they have specific recommendations or procedures. Tarps, ropes, plywood and other items you may need can be purchased quickly at most discount and hardware stores. Again, it’s very important to be safe and consider professional help if it’s needed at this time.
#5 – Make Informed Decisions Related to Repair Contracts & Costs. Always be cautious when you’re vulnerable and upset. Don’t let the clock or someone outside your circle of family and friends compromise your financial future. Talk to recommended contractors and make sure they understand how to work with your insurance company related to timelines, payments, etc. Also, don’t be surprised if your basic homeowners insurance isn’t enough to cover the actual costs for certain major repairs. If you find yourself unable to make your home identical to what it looked like before the damage, set a dollar amount to spend on quality repairs that make sense for your financial situation. Doing so may require some tough design and style decisions. However, don’t just choose the contractor with the lowest price based on price alone. Be comfortable with the entire scenario being proposed by each contractor you plan to hire.
#6 – Begin the Repairs. By now, many crazy things have probably happened. For major repairs, it’s possible that weeks or even months have gone by. Continue to be strong and work with reputable people. When you’re working with hired contractors, you can do your part to keep the work flowing by making selections in a timely manner for things like windows, doors, shingles, siding, cabinets, plumbing/lighting fixtures, flooring, etc. For more information on the building or remodeling process, go to the consumer tab on the BIA’s website.
Create a Disaster Home Inventory! Talk with your insurance agent to see if they can help you in the aftermath of this disaster. You can also search for BIA members offering consulting services related to your home's equipment as well as ways to inventory your personal belongings. Simply follow this link http://www.columbiabuilders.com/splash-home-owners.html to choose one of more the consultants in the drop down menu.