My home was recently damaged in a flood, and now I have to hire a contractor to work on my house. How do I pick one? Is there anything I should watch for?

After a disaster occurs, such as a flood, the most common consumer complaints are about home repair contractors. Disaster areas seem to attract unscrupulous and unqualified contractors.  

This can happen for two different reasons. First, when a large number of homes sustain sudden damage, there are often too few reputable contractors to handle all of the work. Second, the homeowners may be receiving large sums of money from insurance settlements and government emergency aid, and both the contractors and the scam artists are often aware of this money. 

There are several tips on choosing a contractor. Among them are: 

•Make sure the contractor has a valid, current, local license. To check and see if the license is valid, you can contact the West Virginia Contractors Licensing Board at 1 (304) 558-7890 or 877-558-5134.  
•Ask for three references from any potential contractor. Check the references, and, whenever possible, inspect the work. 
•Verify the contractor’s credentials, which includes both training and experience. 
•Avoid door-to-door crews, who often pose as contractors from another job with leftover materials, like roofing supplies or windows. 
•Call the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection at 1 (800) 368-8808 to see if any complaints have been filed against the contractor.  

Before you sign a contract with anyone, there are some precautionary steps you will want to take:  

•Get several different estimates for the work, including a description of the work, materials, and cost.  
•Make sure you get a written contract and that you read and understand everything in it. Under West Virginia law, a contractor is required to put your agreement in writing. If the contractor has promised you any warranties, make sure that they are included in the contract itself.  
•If the contractor requires a deposit up front, make sure that you know what it will be spent on and if you can get a refund. The Office of Consumer Protection recommends that you never pay the full price up front, and that you absolutely never sign over an insurance check to the contractor. It is important that you check the progress of the work and not make the final payment until you are satisfied with the completed work.  
•Finally, be sure that the contractor agrees to do all necessary cleanup when the job is completed.  

If you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact the Office of Consumer Protection at 1 (800) 368-8808.