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When Baseballs Fall from the Sky

Tips to avoid a shady contractor.

It’s spring in Texas, which means three things: 1) taxes, 2) wildflowers, and 3) hail storms. Once again, we are reminded of how destructive Texas hailstorms can be as our friends in the northern DFW metroplex are awakening to find bashed windshields and battered roofs.

With hail storms come hail claims, and with hail claims come roofing and construction contractors, who will be dispatching teams to affected areas to solicit business. Most of these businesses are reputable and do a fine job. Unfortunately, some do not and every year some people end up a double victim—first, from the hailstorm, and second, from the unethical contractor looking to make a buck.

For those of you affected by the hailstorm, here are a few tips that can help you avoid the shady contractor.

1. MAKE YOUR INSURANCE CLAIM NOW. If you have Homeowner’s Insurance, make your claim as soon as possible. Most insurance policies have a requirement that a claim be timely presented in order to allow the insurance company an opportunity to inspect the damage quickly. Even if you are uncertain as to whether you suffered damage, call your insurance company anyway. Many times roof damage is not obvious and can only be determined by carefully inspection by a professional inspector. It is better to be safe than sorry.

2. DON’T LET THE CONTRACTOR RUSH YOU. You will be inundated with offers for services. People claiming to be roofers, builders, restoration services, and cleaning services are descending right now on the area, trying to vie for your business. Some of these people are perfectly legitimate, while others are simply fly-by-night operators looking to take the money the insurance companies pay to you and then give you little to nothing in return. Take your time to check out the service providers. Do an internet search for the service provider and “complaints.” Check with the BBB, Yelp, and other rating and review sites. Talk to them. If you don’t get a good feeling, move on. Your gut is usually accurate. Main thing is for you to decide on your time, not theirs.

3. INSIST ON A WRITTEN CONTRACT BEFORE THE WORK. Many times, a disreputable service provider will start work before giving you an estimate and/or contract for the work. While the provider portrays this as doing you a favor, sometimes the disreputable service provider will start the work and when you are committed to them, charge you an exorbitant price that you have no choice but to accept. Get an estimate and contract BEFORE the work is started. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Most of our cases involving disputes with contractors could have been prevented with a simple written contract.

4. ASK FOR REFERENCES AND LICENSES. Ask the service provider for a list of client references and current copies of any licenses they have. Legitimate providers will gladly provide this. Disreputable providers will insist that you don’t have time for them to get the information to you and they need to start work immediately. Don’t give in to the pressure (see No. 1).

5. PAY PARTIAL PAYMENTS. When you are negotiating the contract, insist that payments to the service provider will be made in installments. The first installment will be given at the beginning. This allows the service provider to buy materials, pay for labor, etc. Subsequent installments are made as certain stages of the work are completed. Don’t make the final payment until you have approved the final product. Inspect the project and make sure it is finished. If the project is not what you want, tell the contractor and work with the contractor to resolve any issues. You may also want to make changes, which is fine, but if you do, you may have additional costs for additional work. You should then make the final payment only after the work is completed and you have approved of the project. Partial payments are common (and expected) in the construction industry and so long as you are reasonable in making or withholding your approval of the work, you are within your legal rights.

6. INSURANCE COMPANIES SOMETIMES DO THE RIGHT THING AND SOMETIMES THEY DON’T. Insurance is a business, and that business is more profitable when it pays out the least amount of money. Sometimes insurers view claims with skepticism or to low-ball an estimate. Sometimes that is worth fighting about, sometimes it is not. The main thing to remember is that you have rights under your insurance contract and if you feel like your insurer is not doing the right thing, say something, and if they still don’t do the right thing, contact the Texas Department of Insurance or a lawyer.

7. WHEN IN DOUBT, CALL A LAWYER. If you ever have any questions about a contract, call a lawyer. If you have any questions about the way an insurance company is handling a claim, call a lawyer. If you have questions about a contractor, call a lawyer. A lawyer will usually review the contract and provide advice for a small fee, but a small amount paid now will go a long way to help you avoid big headaches in the future.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, hopefully it will help you avoid the scam artists looking to make a quick buck. The main thing to remember is that you have rights under the law and you should assert them as needed.

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