The last few years greater Atlanta has seen an abnormal increase in frequency of storms containing large, damaging hail. Our city has been increasingly set upon by hundreds of “storm chasers” from all over the country trying to cash-in. Some arrive literally with busloads of “door knockers” to canvass targeted neighborhoods that are trained in what to say and do but in reality know nothing about how to roof a house. Also, due to the perception of“easy insurance money,” some of these people are only in the business to get the quick the money and then “turn off the phones.” So many local news channels have alerted homeowners to the dangers that some out-of-state storm chasing companies are offering local roofers a percent of the job to let them use the local roofers yard signs and letterhead so they can pose as an established local company. Storm chasers depend upon the enticement to get you a “free roof” and are practiced at being disarming. Therefore, before explaining what you should do if you suspect your home was damaged by a storm it would be prudent to share with you some precautionary warnings.
This is a photo of “hail damage” made by the storm chaser. This individual went to the home while owner was away, caused the roof injury, and then had homeowner call adjuster out. Echols was called in to consult with homeowner.
The news departments of all major Atlanta networks have featured repeated stories of the risks of doing business with someone that knocks on your door or solicits you by phone:
• One “storm chaser” roofing company closed up shop, declared bankruptcy and left the state with the insurance settlements of over 6000 homeowners. Those roofs were never installed – the money was in Caribbean banks. (This is only one case of dozens.) The government is pursuing criminal charges, but I would not expect the homeowners to ever see their money. Mistake number one is to agree to give any company any money before you have a new roof. It is always safest to only deal with someone when you have initiated the contact; not the other way around. I doubt that any local reputably run roofing company is going to ask you for your insurance check until they are finished and you are happy. Any arrangement other than that leaves you in a very vulnerable position.
* There are many cases where storm chasers took the checks, put on the roofs, and then closed up or left the state without paying for the materials purchased, and all of the affected homeowners had liens placed against their homes until payment was made (and this time out of their own pocket). Georgia law makes it the responsibility of the homeowner, not the contractor, to see to it that all materials installed on their home are paid for. That is why using Echols, and Atlanta home improvement company since 1960, is so important.
* Storm chasers generally hire crews for the storm incident they are working, crews they know little about but which agree to work for wages that will allow the roofer to make money at insurance settlement rates. Quality control can be poor. And if they install the roof improperly and then leave or close up, they have broken no law. Poor workmanship is not criminal and in truth, the homeowner has little protection against it other than choosing their roofer well. At Echols, we have had to replace multiple roofs that had just been installed in the last few years by some company that knocked on the homeowners door after a storm.
* Now that the public have been made more aware of the risks by local news stories and consumer reporters and thus more reluctant to trade with solicitors that knocked on their door, two changes in method have been employed: “cold call” phone calls are used to set up appointments for free inspections, as people are more inclined to answer the phone than engage a solicitor at their door, and out of state “chasers” have approached local companies with offers to pay the local contractor to let them use the local company’s letterhead, contracts and yard signs so they could claim to be from a “reputable, local company in Atlanta for many years.” The local roofing contractors that agree to this arrangement are paid a percent of the business generated. The professional storm chasers are free to leave the state afterwards and the local contractor is responsible for warranty service on roofs his company has never seen. For some, the profits are too appealing to turn the offer down. This does not mean that the labor warranties will not be honored, but it does put another layer of potential issues in the mix, aside from being deceptive. You don’t need an arrangement like that, and no one doing it will ever admit to it if you ask.
Not every company that canvasses for storm work is disreputable or dishonest. Some are true locals that have picked up and adopted this method of doing business. But the difficulty is that even being inside the industry, I know of no way to tell a homeowner how to be sure what is really happening when they trade with a stranger that knocks on their door. It is just a poor way to choose to do business when all that need be done to protect oneself is to pick up the phone and call the local contractor of your choice rather than become involved with someone unknown to you.
A Few Prudent Suggestions
- Do not sign a paper promising to give any company your roofing business if they will return and meet with your adjuster. If you have legitimate damage your adjuster will see it, and any company can meet with an adjuster if it is necessary. Many homeowners have been presented with bills, harassed and threatened with legal action by storm chasers that had them sign such papers, and then, upon reflection, chose to use a company they were more comfortable with for the roof.
- Do not sign contracts with the clause, “Price and scope of work to be determined.” Clearly defining scope of work and price is what a contract is for. (Read more on this below.)
- Do not make any deposit on the work. Pay when the job is completed, your grounds are clean and you are satisfied; and require a material lien release when you pay.
Companies that pursue storm damage claims as a way of doing business want you to sign papers as soon as possible authorizing them to be your sole agent in the replacement of your roof. This is good business from their point of view and not necessarily an attempt to do anything improper; but what they are asking you is to take yourself out of the drivers seat and put them in it. You can say, “No. I’ll wait until I have all of the information and details clearly spelled out. I will talk to other roofer’s to seek their advice as well. Then I will make my decision. And i will pay nothing until the job is finished.” This is good business from your point of view.
Storm Damage or Not, Be Prepared and Willing to Spend Some Money of Your Own to get a Good Roof, and Here’s Why
What insurance companies pay for damaged roofs varies widely by region. Obviously the better companies are rarely going to be priced at the lower end for the area they service. The best companies are not going to use the cheapest labor or the least expensive materials. The companies that are set up to do storm work know that their appeal is in telling the customer “We will do the work for whatever the insurance company pays. This will not cost you anything out of pocket.” In order to do that, they have to use roofing crews that agree to work for those rates, buy materials that are the least expensive and confine their scope of work to absolutely nothing more than the insurance company is paying for. They let the insurer determine both what is to be done and what will be paid for it. That is why often the papers they ask homeowners to sign stipulate “Scope of work to be determined” and “Price to be determined.” That is all left to the insurer.
This seems fine, and often is, however, good roofing practice may require that while the existing roof is being removed and replaced other things, things very appropriately not covered by insurance, should be done. Valley liners, flashings, improved ventilation, even rotted decking replacement are all part of good roofing practice which may not be included in an insurance settlement as upgrades and pre-existing issues are not the responsibility of the insurer. If a roofer that is reputable tells you, “These things need to be done while your roof is being replaced,” consider well whether it serves your interests to spend the additional ten or twenty percent to get a good roof while the insurance company is paying for the majority of the work.
I offer My Personal Conclusions Based on being ”Inside” the Industry
Many companies that specialize in doing storm related work are responsible and ethical. Many homeowners have had good and satisfying experiences with storm work companies; many have not. The same is true of all non-storm chaser companies and their customers. There is risk in any exchange of goods and services between two parties. More-so when they do not know each other. If you suspect your home may have sustained damage, I think it wise if you initiate contact with known local companies for opinions and resist the legion of door to door solicitors trying to beat each other through your neighborhood after a storm..
Echols Roofing President, Mark Ashe, asked to meet with Legislative Committee at State Capital to Require Testing and Licensing of Georgia Roofing Contractors
Leading members of the Georgia Roofers Association are meeting with the legislative committee charged with the oversight of general and electrical contractor licensing in February 2013. Members of the state roofers association concerned with the rising level of fraudulent practices within the industry are asking the legislators to consider a bill which would require testing, in-state offices, and licensing before a roofing contractor could operate a business in Georgia. Echols Roofing & Home Improvements is donating time and money to this effort to protect the citizens of our communities and increase the professionalism of the roofing industry.
More Spring Storms, More Homeowners being Targeted
With the widespread damage from storms in metro Atlanta this spring has come more calls from homeowners reporting the loss of their insurance settlements to unscrupulous door-to-door canvassers chasing storm-damage work. Another Marietta homeowner called today asking us to price a new roof for him. He reported that he had signed a contract to replace his hail damaged roof with someone who knocked on his door, and after arranging a start date, had given them his insurance settlement check per their written requirements. They never showed up. He sued, and as they did not show, he was awarded judgment. That was money wasted on an attorney. Where is the bank account he is to collect from? His money is long gone. When will people learn that you don’t ever – never – give money to a smiling, friendly, helpful stranger for a service you have not even received yet. Never! Persuasiveness is their stock and trade. Protect yourself, please. Say, “No thanks,” and call your own local roofer.
Long Rain Periods Will Produce Delays
This spring/summer has seen exceptionally long periods of rain, sometimes with almost 3 weeks of uninterrupted stormy days. Homeowners should anticipate delays in response times. The rains increase the volume of calls by 400% – 500%, and at the same time the repairmen / roof crews are precluded from work as it is foolish to remove someone’s roof during a high risk of rain showers. It’s a double whammy! When the weather finally clears, keep in mind that it may take weeks to get to all the homeowners that have called during the rainy period when no one could work.
August 2013: Homeowner Threatened with Charges of Insurance Fraud and with a Lawsuit by a Storm Chaser Company Rep for Choosing a Different Roofer to Install Their New Roof!
Local Channel 5 news network Investigative Reporter, Randy Travis, exposed yet another local roofing contractor on prime time news whose representative had performed a “free roof inspection” after knocking on a homeowners door. The homeowner signed a piece of paper which she was told was necessary. When she later decided to use another contractor, the door knocker informed her that she had signed a binding agreement and that she would be reported to the Insurance Commissioner’s office for insurance fraud, could lose her homeowners insurance, and would be sued in court by them if she did not use them to replace her roof! Wow, talk about brazen! She was quite alarmed and called the news stations investigative reporter. In truth, she was bound to nothing enforceable in a court of law. What kind of roof or service during the warranty period do you think she was going to get even if she had let them replace her roof? Please, never do business with anyone that solicits you first.