You’ve just discovered that you’ve had a water, fire, vehicle, theft or other damage. No matter the size, the dread and panic can sweep over you quickly like a dark cloud. What do I do now!?
This is likely the first time you’ve had to file a claim or deal with anything of this sort. You don’t know any contractors and definitely not any that are experienced in dealing with this mess.
You Can Choose Any Contractor That You’d Like
When you experience a water or fire damage one of the first things you may do is call your insurance company. You might feel pressure from your insurance company to choose a contractor that they recommend. If you feel the recommended contractor is a good one after you do some research then by all means use them but keep in mind that you can work with the contractor of your choice. The most efficient way is for you to select a contractor early on in the process, so they can help you navigate things from the start but do not feel pressured to make a decision. It’s more important that you make the right decision than a fast one.
Keep in mind that if your insurance company is pushing a contractor, it’s possible that their motives may be conflicted. “Their contractor” can have a tendency to please the adjuster in order to ensure future work from them and not have your best interest in mind. This is not always the case but it's something to be aware of.
Ask for References
Any contractor worth their salt will give you a reference list upon request. Granted, this may be a handpicked list of their best customers but look for varying jobs over a period of time, including recent ones. Make sure you call at least some if not all of the references. The benefits are twofold: You can get a report on the contractor's performance, timeliness, quality, etc. but you can also ask them specifics about how the insurance process was for them and about possible pitfalls or problem areas to watch out for. Ask if there have been any warranty issues and how timely were they and how did they respond to these? It’s not uncommon to have a warranty issue but the key is how did the contractor handle the situation.
Check Online Reviews
Similar to references, this gives you a real world feel for what the contractor is like. Keep in mind that a random negative review is not abnormal, look at the nature of it and how (if) the contractor responded to it and judge accordingly. Ask the contractor if you have any unanswered questions.
The insurance Repair Process Can Take Some Time, Choose Accordingly
Even a relatively small water damage claim can take a month or two from start to finish, and medium to larger claims can take six months, a large fire damage can take a year or even longer. Choose a contractor with this in mind. You want to choose someone that you trust and feel comfortable with because your relationship with them will likely be longer than you think.
Review Contracts, Change Orders and Work Authorizations
Consider asking to review the documents the contractor uses for the various stages of work. In my view the primary reason for a contract is to clarify things between two parties. Apart from the legal aspect of contracts, keeping things clear and both parties on the same page is their most valuable day to day aspect.
Verify that they are Licensed, Bonded and Insured
This may go without saying but it's something that many take for granted. It’s worth looking them up on your state’s website, in Washington State you can also verify that they aren’t in arrears on things like their L&I payments.
How Long Has The Contractor Been in Business?
This can point to experience in the industry, which is critical when it comes to navigating a successful insurance claim experience. This can also speak to their reputation. Typically businesses with a poor reputation are not in business long term but that’s not always the case. Sometimes businesses that prey on people’s bad experiences can be in business for a longer period of time because people feel forced to make a decision in a very emotional moment without research. While a remodeling company can repair a home after a fire damage or water damage, often it's best to work with a contractor that specializes in insurance repairs.
Be Wary of Ambulance Chasing - How Did This Contractor Know About Your Loss?
Unfortunately this is a real part of the insurance repair industry, especially when it comes to fire damages. Many contractors employ a salesperson to listen to police/fire scanners. When they hear a fire damage come across they will arrive on the scene among the emergency personnel. They may dress or act like they are there with the fire department or your insurance company. Never make a decision to use a contractor immediately after a fire damage. This is a very emotional time and it is a major decision. I recommend taking a week or two to review your needs and take the necessary steps to find a contractor that you are comfortable with. If they show up at your home the day of the fire, they likely heard about you on a scanner which just doesn’t feel right to me.
What are Their Employees Like?
See if they have an ‘About Us’ or similar section on their website. If they don’t, ask them how long their employees have been with them. High turnover is common in the restoration industry and ultimately speaks to the quality of the contractor, how they treat people and what type of work they are likely to perform.
What are their Subcontractors Like?
What trades do they do in house and which do they use a subcontractor for? How do they determine which subcontractors they will work with? Lowest price? Quality work? Other? How long have they had a relationship with a given subcontractor?
This is one of the most critical aspects of your relationship with the contractor. Communication is the backbone of a successful restoration project. How do they respond to your first phone call? How well do they communicate during your first meeting?
What is it, how long is it for and how timely will the contractor be in responding to a potential warranty issue? Ask references about any experience they may have had.
After doing your due diligence, just trust your instincts and go with the contractor that you feel the most comfortable with. Keep in mind that quality contractors typically aren’t pushy because they usually have enough work that they don’t have to be. If someone is pushy or trying to get you to make a decision in the heat of the moment they may not be the one you want to work with.
Remember that in three years it won’t matter how long it took to restore your home. Choosing the right contractor can be the difference between a smooth process that restores or even increases your home’s value or just the opposite if you choose the wrong company. So feel free to take your time and choose accordingly in spite of the pressure you may feel to move forward quickly.