As residents slowly begin the clean-up and rebuilding process following the Maui wildfires, the American Property Casualty Insurance Association urges caution when hiring a contractor or public adjuster to avoid losing insurance proceeds or getting caught in scams and other fraudulent activity.
“We do not want to see policyholders be victimized a second time by bad actor vendors just looking to make money,” said Mark Sektnan, vice president for state government relations with the insurance association. “Homeowners and businesses should use these tips to find the right contractor and evaluate if a public adjuster is the best decision for them.”
As homeowners start the claims process, they may be approached by a public adjuster. Homeowners need to understand that if they hire a public adjuster, that hired adjuster will be paid out of their insurance proceeds, the insurance association said in a press release.
“This will reduce how much is available for reconstruction and contents replacement,” Sektnan said.
Insurers urge homeowners to follow these :Do’s & Don’ts” when hiring a contractor:
- Be suspicious of any contractor who tries to rush you, especially on non-emergency or temporary repairs.
- Shop around for a contractor by getting recommendations from your insurer, friends or neighbors. Be wary of anyone knocking on your door offering unsolicited repairs to your home or saying they are endorsed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse repair contractors.
- Always inspect the work and make sure you are satisfied before you pay the contractor.
- Get three written estimates for the work and compare bids.
- Check credentials with the Better Business Bureau or state attorney general’s office to see if the firm has any outstanding complaints.
- Always have a written, detailed contract that clearly states everything the contractor will do, including prices for labor and materials, clean-up procedures and estimated start and finish dates.
- Never pay for work up front. Don’t hire a contractor that requires all payments before work is completed. Most contractors will require a reasonable down payment on work, but don’t pay anything until you have a signed written contract.
- Never sign a contract with blank spaces, which a crooked contractor can alter after you have provided your signature.
- Avoid paying with cash; use a check or credit card instead. This creates a record of your payments to the contractor.
If you are considering a public adjuster, here are tips to protect yourself:
- Be careful of individuals that solicit business by going door to door.
- Ask about their fees and get a written contract outlining the fees and services.
- Be careful about authorizing anyone to work for you without fully understanding what you will receive. An authorization to review a policy may be a contract for service.
- Watch for potential conflicts of interests that may prevent the public adjuster from doing their best for you.
- Avoid public adjusters that misrepresent themselves as being part of a government agency or being sent by your insurance company or agent. If you hire a public adjuster, understand that your settlement check will be made out to you and your public adjuster and will require signature by both parties before it can be cashed.