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How can I find and work with contractors to rebuild after a disaster?

Do some research and get several bids when choosing contractors to work with to rebuild your home. After a disaster, scammers may try to take advantage of you, so be alert.

If your home or other property suffered damage from a disaster, you may need a contractor to help you rebuild. Don’t rush into the decision. You have time to research your options and check credentials. Think about the long-term - working with the right contractor could mean the difference between settling back in your home a year from now, or still dealing with costly repairs because your contractor never finished the work.

How to find a trusted contractor to repair your home after a disaster

Explore your options, compare services, and do some research to make sure you hire a contractor with a good record. 

Some “Do’s and Don’ts” of finding a contractor

“Do’s:” “Don’ts:”

Research may help you uncover problems with contractors such as billing, quality of work and materials, and timeliness.

  • Ask for referrals from people you trust
  • Reach out to your local builders’ association or remodelers’ council for the names of members in your area
  • Get written estimates from at least two to three contractors to compare offers

People without references or a local history may not be trustworthy. 

  • Pick someone going door to door 
  • Pick someone from out of state
  • Work with someone who refuses to show ID or contact information
  • Make any upfront payments without a signed contract 

Questions to ask before hiring a contractor

  • Do you have references? Ask the contractor to put you in touch with past customers to find out if people are satisfied with their work, construction materials, and pricing.
  • How long have you been in business? You may want to work with someone who has a proven track record in your town or city.
  • What is your contractor license or registration number? Write it down and look it up on your state contracting board or agency’s website, or call their hotline to make sure it’s valid. If they aren’t listed, they’re not a good option. You should also check with your state’s licensing board  and state attorneys general office  to see if the contractor has any public or disciplinary complaints against them. Then, do your own research and look for online reviews.
  • Do you have general liability insurance and workers' compensation coverage? It’s important for contractors to be insured In case something happens at the worksite.
  • Is a building permit required and who is responsible for getting that permit? Depending on where you live, a permit may be required before work can legally start.

Working with contractors

Once you’ve picked a contractor you feel comfortable working with, you still need to be careful. It’s important to keep written records, and receipts of all work.  Keeping records is especially important if your insurance company or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) pays for the work. If you’re borrowing money to pay for repairs, do your own research to find the best lender for you. Don’t just take a contractor’s referral without shopping for other lenders and checking references.

Get copies of these documents before work begins:

  • Signed contracts
  • Guarantees
  • Warranties 

Document what you’ve agreed to with the contractor. If the contract is for a significant amount of money, you may want to have it reviewed by a lawyer. Never sign a contract without carefully reading it. Ask questions.

Be sure to record:

  • Who will pay for materials
  • Quantity and quality of materials
  • Who will obtain necessary permits or licenses
  • Project start and completion dates
  • A total price and a schedule for any payments
  • All verbal promises

“Do’s and Don’ts” for paying your contractor

“Do’s”: “Don’ts”:

  • Get a receipt for all payments

  • Pay with cash

  • Keep documentation

  • Make the final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction

If there are problems while working with your contractor

Here is what you can do if repairs aren’t properly made or you believe you have been ripped off: