The Missouri Senate is considering new legislation that would regulate the state’s roofing industry in a bid to clamp down on "storm chasers" and other unethical business practices. But how do homeowners recognize a storm chaser or other unscrupulous contractors?
The term "storm chaser" casts a blanket on a company that has the ability to ramp up operations in a given locality. For example, a local company may have branches in other areas or regions, and if a storm hits, they may shift their staffing around (e.g. bring their sales reps here) to capitalize on the surge in demand. Then when things settle down, the local office goes back to normal operations, and the sales reps return home.
Personally, I think there is nothing wrong with that model, so long as the they are properly serving the customer. Companies that have no local presence and do not intend to keep a local branch open after things settle down are the ones to really watch out for.
So here are some things to remember when selecting a contractor, especially after a major storm event:
If someone knocks on your door, DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING!
A lot of door knockers will have you sign a Contingency Agreement. Often times they will tell you "It's a permission slip to allow me to get on your roof" or "I have to have this signed for liability reasons" or however they want to pitch it. If you read the fine print, you may owe that person up to 30% of your insurance proceeds even if you don't use them.
Contractors that insist on having you sign a contingency agreement are not confident enough in their business to let you make an informed and well thought out decision on who you should hire.
If someone knocks on your door and would like to inspect for hail damage, engage them in friendly conversation.
Have a chat with them about what they will be doing, what they are looking for, etc. Also ask them "Where are you from?" or "Where do you live?" If someone just moved to town yesterday, you will quickly realize that they don't know much about the area.
Do not pay money up front!
I have seen too many times where someone will hand over all of the insurance money the day they sign the contract and they never see that person again. That leaves you with no money, but you still have a damaged roof. If this happens, contact an attorney immediately! For our company, we do not take any money until the day that the shingle is delivered to your property.
Do your own research!
Look at their listings and reviews on Better Business Bureau, Angie's List, Google Reviews, Home Advisor, etc. Sure, contractors can get some bad reviews occasionally – sometimes you end up working with someone that you just can't make happy. However, if a contractor has no reviews or only bad reviews, that is a sign that they are pretty new to the area, are a new business in general, or they aren't promoting a customer-focused business.
If you find a company that is good and you want to work with them, be willing to wait for the work. If you think about the vast amount of damage that a storm can create and how many roofs need to be repaired, a lot of the good companies will book up fast. If you have a pressing issue (e.g. a leak or you are selling your home, etc.), discuss it with your sales representative.
Our company does our best to do FIFO (First In, First Out), but we do make exceptions for special circumstances. If your roof isn't leaking and you don't have a requirement to get it done right away, it is probably better to sit and wait the 5-8 weeks for the company you want, versus getting it done next week with a company you don't trust. Remember, your new roof will be up there for about 30 years, so if it takes a few extra weeks to wait for a good company, that is worth it.
Anyone who knocks on your door and says "Your roof has been destroyed by hail" – you can kindly ask them to move on.
Without actually getting on the roof, there is almost no way to determine if a roof was damaged. If the hail was 4" in diameter, sure you might be able to see it from the ground, but a good company is going to hold off on their opinion until after they have seen the evidence.
A lot of these people are making their determination based solely on radar data, which is helpful, but an actual inspection does need to be performed. Maybe your three large oak trees were positioned just right on your property and you didn't get any damage – but without an inspection, there is no way to know for sure.
In general, the storm chasers are trying to smash and grab.
They do not want you to take time making a decision. They will ask you to file a claim while they are there, and they may even have a list of all the insurance companies' numbers on hand so you can file right away. If the person you are working with is insistent about your making decisions without the proper information, it is probably best to let them move on.
Take a look at their company on Missouri Case Net.
This is a free search tool that allows you to view court records. This will allow you to see if a contractor has been repeatedly sued by homeowners.
Most importantly, be an informed consumer! A roof is a very large purchase, so take your time in selecting the company that will keep your home safe and dry for the next 30 years.