Follow these tips to stay away from roofing scams!
In a report this week to a Texas Senate committee, state Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman says that Texas has one of the highest rates of fraud in the roofing repair industry. This is due, she says, to a lack of state regulation over roofing contractors.
The commissioner’s assessment of the roofing industry won’t be reassuring to the thousands of homeowners whose houses were damaged in the June 13 hail storm that hit a wide area of East Dallas. The storm damaged an estimated 35,000 homes, says Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas. Hanna says the Austin trade group’s estimate of total damage to property and vehicles is $1.2 billion.
Immediately after the storm, roofing contractors and their representatives swarmed into the affected neighborhoods. Residents reported convoys of contractors on their streets and piles of promotional cards and fliers at their doorsteps. Many contractors and representatives knocked on doors to solicit business.
The affected areas include the city-designated landmark districts of Swiss Avenue, Munger Place and Junius Heights. Damage was so extensive in these areas that the city’s Historic Preservation Section set up a temporary satellite office at the Lakewood branch library. Section personnel at the temporary office helped owners of the historic homes fill out and expedite the extra paperwork necessary to have their houses repaired according to Landmark Commission rules and other relevant codes.
“The most tragic was the damage done to the slate and Spanish-tile roofs that were original to some of the houses,” which were 80 to 90 years old, says Mark Doty, a city of Dallas historic preservation officer. In two weeks at the satellite location, Doty says, the staff processed more than 200 applications for routine repairs on roofs, gutters and windows, which were the majority of the damage. Another 40 applications were for work that required staff review and approval.
“We were trying to be as sympathetic as possible and make it a little easier” to get permits, Doty says. Applications “would typically take only a couple of days anyway, but we wanted to provide the convenience, rather than having homeowners coming down to City Hall.”
Doty says homeowners report they “were expecting six to nine months for some of the work to be completed, especially on the larger houses with historic significance. Of course, a lot depends on the insurance and the availability of the contractor.”
Availability may be a key to determining who might or might not be a reputable contractor, says Ellis Smith of Ellis Smith Roof America, whose Dallas company has been in business since 1990.
“Be wary of the door-knocker” who comes unsolicited, offering an estimate on roofing work, warns Smith, who says that any roofing contractor who solicits work door to door isn’t likely to be very reputable. The best roofers stay busy because they get plenty of referral business through happy customers, he says.
Smith concurs with Kitzman’s conclusions about the industry. He says a lack of licensing like that required for electricians and plumbers allows so-called gypsy, drive-by and storm-chaser roofers. After damaging storms, these mobile teams converge on affected areas hoping to cash in on the increased need for roofing work.
It’s easy to become a roofing contractor, Smith says. All that’s required is “to register with the city as a registered contractor.” Registration allows a company to get a Dallas building permit for each job, which is required for roofing work valued at $500 or more.
Hanna, the spokesman for the Insurance Council, says another reason to avoid the unsolicited estimate is to give the insurance adjuster a chance to be the first professional to examine the roof for damage. Hanna says one of the most common scams in the roofing industry is deliberate contractor-caused damage. When disreputable contractors get on the roof before the insurance adjuster gets there, they may use the edge of a coin, their finger or other objects “to cause all kinds of damage.” When the adjuster examines the roof, the estimate of damage is inflated, allowing the roofer to earn more from the job than might otherwise have been the case.
Another method to avoid such scams is to take pictures of your roof before the adjuster or a contractor examines it, says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, the paid-subscription online service that offers reviews of contractors and other businesses.
Hicks says roofers are “one of the more popular categories” on angieslist.com, which companies cannot pay to be listed on. Companies can request to be listed, she says, but they cannot avoid receiving bad reviews by unhappy customers.
After a storm, Hicks says, “The No. 1 problem is some consumers end up signing contracts or paying money under high-pressure sales tactics.” Because there are storm-chasing contractors, she says, “it’s more important than ever to do your research. Be firm in saying no. Don’t feel you have to make a choice right away.”
Dallas police Sgt. Bruce McDonald echoes Hicks’ recommendation to thoroughly research any roofing contractor being considered. “Don’t work with just any roofer who comes knocking on your door,” says McDonald of the department’s Financial Investigations office. “With the amount of damage done by the storm, we may have people work our area” trying to pull off scams.
No roofing scams or fraud have been reported during the past year, McDonald says. He was quick to add, however, that sometimes complaints of a scam don’t come in until months after the alleged fraud has been committed.
Complaints about contractors made to the Dallas-area Better Business Bureau, however, are trending up compared with last year, according to statistics provided by Jeannette Kopko, senior vice president of communications.
From Jan. 1 to July 9, the agency received 161 complaints about roofing contractors. In 2011, there were 195, and in 2010 there were 140.
Kopko wrote in an email that “complaints on roofers are generally about unfinished work, unsatisfactory work, failure to honor the warranty, difficulties getting in touch with the roofer once the job is started or finished, or damage to landscaping or other property.”
First steps after suspected damage
Take steps to stop any leaks that might damage interiors.
Call the insurance company.
Ask the agent or adjuster what the process will be and take notes or ask for an email or fax. Take any steps suggested by the insurance representative.
Take pictures of your roof, even if you don’t see any damage. Leave that determination to the adjuster, not to a roofing contractor.
Wait to get estimates until your adjuster has examined your roof.
Avoid door-to-door solicitors.
Don’t sign any document until you’re sure you’ve chosen the contractor you want.
Avoid contractors willing to help “save your deductible,” which is unlawful.
Ask for referrals from neighbors and others you trust.
Make sure the company actually exists by looking them up on a third-party directory, such as a printed telephone or business association directory. The number provided by the contractor may just be for show, and scam artists may even set up websites with false information about their operation.
Check with the city of Dallas (or the jurisdiction where the house is located) to make sure the contractor is registered and can apply for a building permit, which is required in Dallas for roofing work valued at $500 or more.
Check the reputation of the contractors by looking at service-referral websites such as the Dallas-area Better Business Bureau (free) or Angie’s List (free information and contractor listings but a paid subscription is required to view contractor ratings and reviews). Look for a local street address, not a post office box. Check how long the company has been in business and look for memberships in local and national trade associations.
If a subcontractor identifies as being with a large company, call the contracting company to make sure the sub is being truthful.
Ask all contractors to confirm they have proof of general liability insurance and workers-compensation coverage. Once you choose a contractor, ask to see proof.
Ask contractors you’re considering for references to other jobs they did 12 to 24 months ago so you can determine whether the work has held up.
Get three estimates in writing, which gives you an opportunity to check for consistency in the scope of work. Avoid bids that are either much higher or lower than the other two.
Checking a contractor’s work
Appliance vents and turbine ventilators should not be rusty or dented.
Metal flashing or boots around vent penetrations, chimneys and the edge of the roof should look new, not just painted.
Lumps or bumps under the shingles, which indicate improper nailing, can lead to leaks and premature aging of shingles.