Given the damage left behind by the ice storm that hit Shelby County earlier this month, this topic is especially timely.
So many people are dealing with damage to their homes from the ice storm – trees falling on their homes, frozen pipes bursting and causing water damage, even fires caused by power surges as MLGW got power turned back on. Depending on the amount and type of damage, people are desperate to get it repaired. Enter the unscrupulous “home repair” folks.
Many times we reach out to friends and family for recommendations. Most of the reputable folks are booked for weeks if not months, particularly after a weather event like we had. Unfortunately, that leaves the fly-by-night home repair scammers driving neighborhoods looking for homes with damage and offering their services. They promise to be available immediately and to do the work for less money than the ones you would have to wait weeks for. Don’t be fooled.
Some will ask for money up front for “supplies” and disappear. They may give you a handwritten “contract” with dubious language that is open to interpretation about the amount actually owed. Our seniors seem to be favorite targets of these folks.
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According to the Better Business Bureau, in 2021, 22 “home improvement” scams were reported to our scam-tracker by Shelby County consumers for a loss of $74,317.56. All of these losses were reported by seniors. Most of these were storm chasers, or fly-by-night “contractors” who took money and never returned.
A lot of reports were filed on legitimate contractors, too. Roofers, plumbers, contractors, etc., who have F ratings with the BBB. Remember that the lowest price doesn’t necessarily mean the work will be done correctly, if at all.
Before engaging anyone to make repairs to your home, check them out. The following suggestions compiled by the Better Business Bureau are a great way to minimize the opportunity for fraud.
Know your local and state requirements for licensing of contractors. Requirements vary from state to state and, in some cases, city to city or county to county. You should contact your local permit office or local building official regarding local requirements. Don’t hesitate to ask for a copy of the required license.
Jobs over $25,000 require a valid TN General Contractor’s license.
Contractors doing work between $3000 and $24,999 in nine Tennessee counties must hold a valid TN Home Improvement license. Shelby and Haywood are the only two counties in West Tennessee that require this license.
Jobs under $3000 do not require a state license in Tennessee.
Be wary of door-to-door workers who show up unsolicited offering to make repairs. This includes companies offering to remove fallen trees and branches, which could cause further damage if not properly removed. Just because someone has a chainsaw doesn’t mean they know how to properly remove a fallen tree.
Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Keep copies of receipts for emergency repairs for reimbursement later.
Take time to shop around for reputable contractors. Get at least three estimates and check out contractors with BBB.
Ask the BBB for a list of reputable BBB Accredited Businesses to choose from including roofers, tree removal companies, fence companies and other home repair businesses.
Get everything in writing. The written agreement should outline the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Review it carefully before signing. Vague clauses such as “repair roof” are invitations for abuse.
Never pay the full amount of repairs in advance. The BBB recommends that you pay no more than 30% up front. Pay with a credit card if possible, which offers you more protection if the work is not completed as specified.
Not only do we want to help you and particularly our seniors avoid scammers, we also want to make sure our seasoned citizens can take advantage of all the government services and programs available to them in Shelby County. As part of our Shelby County Cares initiative, the Trustee’s Office along with County Mayor Harris and several other Shelby County agencies have compiled a booklet of services offered to seniors that will be mailed out this month.
If you don’t receive one by the end of March, please call (901) 222-0206 to request one.
Regina Morrison Newman is the Shelby County Trustee.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Recent ice storms bring unwanted home repair scammers