BBB gives tips to Kansans as many look to make repairs following tornados

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – The Better Business Bureau says tornadoes ripped through Kansas on Friday night, April 29, and were a painful reminder severe weather is a constant threat.

Unfortunately, the BBB said traveling repair firms can be another threat in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters. While some firms are reputable, it said others are opportunists who swarm in after the weather has passed to take advantage of unsuspecting victims in a vulnerable moment.

The BBB noted that some of the firms will even try to pay local contractors or construction companies with good reputations for temporary use of their name to create the illusion of credibility

“In these difficult times, it can be difficult to know who to turn to when navigating post-storm damage,” said BBB Regional President and CEO Jim Hegarty. “Natural disasters can certainly bring out the best in people, especially in our communities where help comes quickly from neighbors. But unfortunately, there are also solicitors looking to take advantage of vulnerable victims.”

The Bureau said storms offer a tragic reminder there is no better time than the present to catalog belongings. It said the advantage it creates if the need to tell insurance companies what items were lost to storm damage is huge. It gave the following tips:

  • Use online tools insurance companies provide. Their resources can make the process easier. Ask an insurance company what they offer.
  • Go through homes one room at a time and take smartphone videos and photos of belongings.
  • Look for helpful data – serial numbers of appliances and other large items – and, if possible, records of what you paid for items. Remember to store the information in a safe place unlikely to get ravaged by a storm.
  • Use the cloud or safely stored thumb drive to save records of important documents – Last 7 years of IRS tax returns, vehicle records, investment statements, loan and mortgage records, legal items like wills and trusts, insurance documents, pension plan documents, records of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, military service and Social Security cards.

After the storm hits, the BBB gave the following tips:

  • Gather evidence of damage and rely on smartphones to take photos of what has been harmed and broken.
  • Use tarps and plywood to make temporary repairs as post-storm damage may not be covered.
  • Talk to insurance companies before talking to contractors or repair people. If possible, make this a conversation rather than an email. Find out what policies cover and how much time there is to file a claim.
  • Save storm-related receipts like living expenses if shelter elsewhere is necessary.
  • Ask insurance companies for recommended contractors.
  • Check contractors being considered with the BBB where business profiles can be read and marketplace histories can be viewed >> HERE.

When repair firms arrive, the BBB gave the following tips:

  • Slow down and don’t make quick decisions. Just take a card and ignore high-pressure sales tactics.
  • Ask questions – Are they bonded? Licensed? Insured? Do they have workman’s comp? Where is their office? What’s their phone number? Can they give you references?
  • Look at their vehicles – Do they have local tags? Is the company name on display?
  • Get written quotes with clearly written detailed proposals broken down into separate line items – this is a good sign a contractor is being thorough and has prepared an accurate estimate. They should include types of materials being used, manufacturer and color, scope of work being done, including material and labor costs, who is responsible for repairing or replacing exterior landscape or interior finishes that are damaged from the work, payment procedures, length of warranty and what is covered. Be suspicious of low estimates.
  • Read everything on the contract carefully.
  • Never sign a contract until the company has been checked out at BBB.org.
  • Be cautious before documents are signed that give a contractor any rights to insurance claims. Discuss details of such a request with the insurance company or agent.

The BBB said it is also wise to be on the lookout for scammers who seek to take advantage of an owner’s need to repair the damage quickly. It has given the following red flags to be cautious of:

  • Door-to-door workers who claim to have leftover materials – if salespeople go door-to-door, check to see if the community requires them to have a solicitation permit and ask for identification. Avoid agreements to front porch sales pitches – instead, take time to research the business before contacting them to pursue further details and agreements.
  • A contractor who shows up unannounced and claims a home is unsafe – if concerned about structural damage to a home, residents should have an engineer, architect, or building official inspect it. While most roofing contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing strangers to inspect a roof. An unethical contractor could create damage to get work.
  • Never pay in full for all repairs in advance – avoid paying cash and instead use a credit card if possible as it could provide additional protection if there is a problem. While many companies could ask for a deposit, the BBB suggests no more than one-third of the job be paid upfront. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. The final payment should be made only after the work is finished and all subcontractors have been paid.
  • Businesses without local addresses – when looking for a reputable business that can help clean up, start with a visit to BBB.org and if a company doesn’t have a permanent place of business, this could be cause for concern. Always ask for references and verify them independently.

If storm damage has not affected the community, the BBB said residents can still prepare in case of future disasters. It has given the following tips for businesses and homeowners to take to reduce the impact of natural disasters:

  • Take pictures or videos of businesses or homes as a point of reference in the event of any emergency.
  • Back up critical digital files on a portable external hard drive and store it away from the office.
  • Properly anchor fuel and propane tanks so they do not float away in case of flooding. Also, make sure fuel levels are full ahead of storms.
  • Have copies of insurance policies on hand and have an electronic version available.
  • Collect family photos and other moments in a centralized and easily accessible area, preferably in a watertight container.
  • keep medicines together in a waterproof container.
  • prepare an emergency kit with a change of clothes, weather-appropriate footwear, flashlight, water, and battery or crank-operated radio to monitor weather without electricity.
  • Discuss emergency plans with family. Designate a safe place inside if the need to take shelter arises and a meeting place outside in case evacuation is called for.

For more information about the BBB, click HERE.

Copyright 2022 WIBW. All rights reserved.

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