BBB Issues Tips for Hurricane Ike Victims

By: Better Business Bureau Press Release
By: Better Business Bureau Press Release

When a disaster is over, victims begin the dirty task of cleaning up their homes. The Better Business Bureau warns consumers to watch out for opportunists looking for victims of their own.

When seeking the services of a cleaning and restoration firm, consumers should understand that water-soaked carpeting can be saved, while carpet padding needs to be thrown away. Soaked carpet needs to be professionally sanitized at a cleaning firm's facilities. This ensures that disease-causing bacteria are eliminated. Floors and walls also need to be sanitized thoroughly.

The BBB offers the following tips for selecting a restoration firm:

- The restoration contract should include a description of all the work to be performed, including the quality of materials to be used.

- Disaster victims should not make decisions they are uncomfortable with or be pushed into making a decision.

- Victims should save all receipts, including those for food and temporary lodging that are covered under their insurance policy.

- Contracts should include a price break-down for both labor and materials.

- Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including any warranties on materials or labor.

- References at least a year old should be requested. It may seem impossible to travel to an unaffected area to inspect references after a disaster, but remember the time spent will be minor in comparison to the possibility of living with inferior repair work for years.

- Review all documentation before any payments are made and before signing the dotted line.

Moving & Storage

Many disaster victims will either need to move back into their homes or transfer their belongings to storage while repairs are being made. The Better Business Bureau warns consumers to use caution when choosing a moving and storage company after a natural disaster.

Consumers should ask moving companies for customer references and estimates prior to choosing one. Many companies now offer binding estimates or guaranteed prices. If you do not obtain a binding estimate, there is no guarantee that the final cost will equal the estimate.

The movers should be shown everything that needs to be moved, including items in the garage and attic, as well as lawn furniture and playground equipment when requesting an estimate. Residents should read and understand any contract before signing or making payments. The mover should put all verbal promises in writing, including costs and moving time and date.

A Certificate of Insurance should be shown by the mover as proof of liability and worker's compensation insurance. Consumers should also ask about the mover's liability for belongings and the claims policy in the event of loss or damage. Typically valuable items such as jewelry, documents and collectables are not covered by the moving company, so residents should move these items personally. Moving companies should also be licensed according to the type of move (interstate or intrastate).

Disaster victims should be sure to get rid of unwanted items before requesting estimates since these will simply increase the cost of moving or storing. If disaster damaged items are to be discarded, the resident should make sure the insurance company recognizes the items covered by the policy.

If storage facilities are required, visit the facility in order to verify that the firm has adequate security and protection and offers insurance coverage. Many storage companies charge a fee every time someone accesses the storage area. Make sure you understand the terms of your contract before signing.

Insurance Claims

In the aftermath of a major disaster, many aspects along the road to recovery will almost certainly involve your insurance (homeowners, renter/tenant, automobile, marine, flood, etc.). Taking a few immediate steps can significantly increase ability to obtain a quick settlement from your carrier. Here are some tips:

- If possible, photograph the exterior and interior of the premises, showing the damage.

- Immediately call your insurance agent to report your claim. The agent will prepare a Notice of Loss form and an adjuster will be assigned to assist you.

- Separate the damaged from the undamaged property, and put it in the best possible order for the adjuster's examination. If reasonably possible, protect the property from further damage.

- Good records of your insured property can be of significant assistance to your and your adjuster. Use your inventory to work with the adjuster in presenting your claim.

- Damaged property which presents a health hazard or which may hamper local clean-up operations should be disposed of. Just be sure to adequately describe discarded items so that, when the adjuster examines your losses and your records, these article are included in the documentation.

- Good records speed up settlement of your claim. Compile a room-by-room inventory of missing or damaged goods, and include manufacturer's names, dates and places of purchases, and prices. Try to locate receipts or proofs of purchase, especially for major appliances, and note manufacturers' names, serial numbers, prices, and dates of purchase.

Flood-Damaged Automobiles
In the wake of a major disaster in your area, the Better Business Bureau urges new and used car buyers to be cautious of unscrupulous businesses and individuals who may try to sell flood-damaged cars without revealing the vehicles' history.

The BBB recommends the following tips to help consumers determine if a car is flood-damaged:

- Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped "salvage."

- Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and to look for signs of water.

- Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.

- Check the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage.

- Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.

- Check for a well-defined line, or watermark, and for musty odors resulting from mildew.

- Check out the reliability of the dealer by contacting the Better Business Bureau where the company is located.

- If the car's history seems suspicious, ask the dealer or individual directly if the car has been damaged by flood water.

- Before buying any used car, always get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. The extra cost may save you money in the long run.

Don't Get Soaked Buying a Flood-Damaged Car
In the wake of a major flood in your area, the Better Business Bureau urges new and used car buyers to be cautious of unscrupulous businesses and individuals who may try to sell flood-damaged cars without revealing the vehicles' history.

The BBB recommends the following tips to help consumers determine if a car is flood-damaged:

- Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped "salvage."

- Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and to look for signs of water.

- Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.

- Check the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage.

- Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.

- Check for a well-defined line, or watermark, and for musty odors resulting from mildew.

- Check out the reliability of the dealer by contacting the Better Business Bureau where the company is located.

- If the car's history seems suspicious, ask the dealer or individual directly if the car has been damaged by flood water.

- Before buying any used car, always get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. The extra cost may save you money in the long run if major problems are discovered.

Pest Control
Depending on time of year and climate, complaints against pest and termite control companies may increase after a disaster. The BBB office serving Houston reports that it regularly processes complaints that allege a company found pests during a "free" inspection, but a later inspection by another company disclosed no evidence of pest infestation.

A second opinion should be sought, particularly if infestation is found during a "free" inspection from a door-to-door salesperson. The relatively low cost of an inspection may prove to be a good investment.

Before signing a contract, consumers should determine whether the company is listed in the telephone directory and whether it has a street address. Some questionable companies may operate with only a truck, telephone answering service and a mail drop. Consumers may also check to see whether the name of the company is on the truck.

Consumers should be wary of companies, which use scare tactics in trying to get your business or use high-pressure sales tactics such as offering a deal which is only good if signed immediately.

Cooling & Heating Equipment, Major Appliances
Widespread property damage brings out opportunists who attempt to reap large profits from disaster victims. Homeowners should exercise caution when having their heaters, air conditioners and major appliances repaired, replaced or cleaned after a natural disaster.

There are several steps consumers can take to protect themselves before contacting a repair company:

- Thoroughly clean out mud and residual material.

- Let units dry out thoroughly in order to determine whether the equipment is still functional.

- The gas valve in furnaces could be dangerous if the unit has been submerged. If this occurs, a professional opinion is recommended.

- When assessing damage to refrigerators, dishwashers and washers or dryers, homeowners should keep in mind that the degree the appliance was submerged directly affects the amount of damage incurred.

- Consumers who decide their appliances need repair work should obtain bids from several firms, making sure that the specifications on each bid are identical. In addition, consumers should ask these firms for references and check each one carefully.

- Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses soliciting work in unmarked trucks. A five-year warranty isn't worth much if the consumer can't track down the company that issued it.

- Once a consumer has a list of potential repair firms, contact the local Better Business Bureau for BBB reports about dealers and repair firms.

Home Repairs
When residents return to their homes after a natural disaster, a disaster of another type may plague the area - the unscrupulous repairperson.

Before homeowners make any repairs they should determine how much aid is available. The amount of aid may determine the extent of repairs. The three basic funding sources for repairs are insurance proceeds, government assistance, and private funds.

If a homeowner makes emergency repairs, they should be sure to document all expenditures including temporary lodging and meals. Documentation may be necessary for reimbursement.

Once the amount of funds available are determined, it is necessary to select a contractor. Once a consumer has a list of potential repair firms, contact your local Better Business Bureau for BBB reports about the firm. Consumers may also want to check with friends or relatives for references.

Homeowners should be suspicious of door-to-door workers who, in order to get the job, may use scare tactics such as allegedly unsafe structural conditions. Homeowners should check to see if the company's name is on the worker's vehicle, if the company is listed in the telephone directory, and if a street address is provided.

Although the victims may be most concerned with getting things back to normal, additional heartache and money will be saved by proceeding with caution.

If possible, homeowners should request two or three estimates of the cost of repairs. The homeowners should also be certain that the contractors are bidding the same package including materials to be used, when work is to begin and be completed, and when payments are to be made. If financing, the contract should include a breakdown of these costs as well.

A down payment of 30 percent of the total is standard for the industry. The time when work is to begin is particularly important as many contractors may have a backlog of work due to the disaster. Homeowners should not sign a completion form until they are totally satisfied. It is wise for homeowners to ask for a lien waver to protect them in the event the contractor fails to pay their suppliers.

When selecting a contactor, the homeowner should make sure the contract contains a detailed description of the necessary work. A contract which states "repair siding" is an open invitation for abuse.

For further information relative to disaster tips, please access the website at www.bryan.bbb.org.


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