The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Resources & relief

June 17, 2011

RESOURCE: FEMA cites list to guard against home-repair fraud

JOPLIN, Mo. — Working at a comfortable, relaxed pace and relying on old-fashioned common sense are probably the two best ways one can guard against potential home repair/improvement fraud, experts said Friday.

Representatives with The National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, gave an impromptu mini-workshop on how Joplin tornado victims can identify and circumvent fraudulent contractors and their claims.

“There are a lot of good contractors out there, (many) coming from other states to help you,” said Phae Howard, founder of the Atlanta, Ga.-based national fraud center. “But there are a few bad ones.”

Lenard Cullins, contractor inspector for FEMA, provided a list of tips:

• Never hand out money to a contractor before the job begins.

• Don’t feel rushed to do anything.

• Do your homework and find out how much the repairs will cost.

• Write down a detailed budget of everything it will take to repair your house.

• Find out everything you can about potential contractors.

• Go over every little detail about the project with the contractor.

• When it comes to estimates (it usually takes a week or two to get estimates back), the lowest in cost isn’t always the best deal. Someone with better qualifications, in the long run, is much better to you than someone who comes in a few thousand dollars cheaper than the next highest estimate.

• Every type of work done should be in the written agreement, Cullins said, “including scope of work, the exact name of the company, start and end date.”

• Be sure that it’s inked in the contract that all pay requests are tied with work progress, and not a length of time.

• Change orders, no matter how small and insignificant, should always be agreed upon and signed by both parties.

• Always get a copy of the contract. Cullins said he’s always amazed at how many people never get copies of the contract.

• Photographs of the site before work begins and photographs taken daily of the work is another important step a homeowner can do to avoid potential pitfalls down the road.

• Never give the contractor your insurance policy numbers, bank account numbers, a key to the front door, a garage door opener or home security codes.

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Tornado: Resources & relief