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8/8/2017  Tips to Avoid Contractor Fraud

If your property has been damaged by a storm, you’ll probably be working with a contractor to help get things back in order.

Most contractors are honest, hardworking people who take pride in what they do. But it’s important to be savvy about who you choose to work with. 

Contractor fraud occurs when individual contractors or firms offer services that knowingly mislead the other party, such as performing unsatisfactory repairs or charging more than a job is worth. Usually, these illegal acts are expensive for homeowners because they rack up costly bills or can even lead to unnecessary additional repairs.

 

 If a contractor requires the full payment upfront, you definitely should think twice about doing business with them. It’s not unusual for a contractor to request some money upfront, but don’t put a substantial portion of the job down right away.

Other payments should be made according to an agreed upon schedule as certain work is finished. Never pay in full or sign a completion certificate before the work is done to your satisfaction and you’ve confirmed it’s code-compliant. If you pay them in full while there are still expectations to be met, many contractors will have little incentive to come back and resolve any issues.

To ensure the contractor's suppliers are properly paid and you're not "on the hook for their expenses", take precautions. Before work begins, consider seeking a lien waiver from the contractor. That way, when the project is complete, both you and the contractor will sign off and state that all the contract obligations have been met. This includes the contractor making all the payments to the suppliers. If the contractor doesn’t sign off on the lien waiver, you don’t have to pay them until they’ve proven their suppliers have been paid.

Maybe you're offered full credit for your deductible...be wary. There are many contractors who actually tempt you with this offer to get you to sign with them, but, keep in mind this could be illegal and probably a sign that the contractor is not on the up and up.

Most legitimate contractors offer no charge for an estimate, but again, be wary.  During the inspection, be extra attentive to their assessment. And it’s always a good idea to get more than one estimate. Some contractors will even go so far as to target the elderly and perform inspections in places of their homes where they can’t easily access, like crawl spaces. This is an easy way for a contractor to get away with fraud and taking someone’s money.

There are contractors out there who follow storm events from state to state, looking for easy targets. Hiring an out-of-state contractor can be problematic for a couple of reasons: First, if they did careless work or didn’t complete the job at all, but still took your money, they’ll be difficult to track down. Second, even if it’s a legitimate company, if an issue pops up later, you might have a difficult time getting them to come make corrections to the work.

Instead, go with a local contractor with a known track record to avoid these “storm chasers”. You can check with the Better Business Bureau or ask within the community for references and recommendations.

Some contractors will use cheap materials and hire inexperienced workers in order to make a bigger profit. They might even cause damage to your roof or siding and indicate it was caused by the storm.   

 The best thing you can do to avoid scenarios like these is to obtain references and be diligent about researching a reputable contractor. Feel free to ask the contractor for references from past jobs, how long they’ve been in business and try to be knowledgeable about some of the materials they’re working with. Don’t allow them to inspect your roof or other property until you feel comfortable they’re a trustworthy contractor.

If a contractor reveals an unforeseen problem, be guarded and get a second opinion. If a contractor points out a problem that you didn’t hire them to fix, be sure to get either another person to take a second look or do some research and make sure the problem needs immediate attention. Both you and the contractor should sign a contract before they begin work on it or charge you any amount.

A building permit ensures that your property was reviewed and inspected to meet codes, ordinances and requirements. If a contractor fails to get the correct permit, there may be risks involved.

What to do: When you ensure that your contractor gets a building permit, you’re ensuring their work is inspected and up to local code. If they don’t have a proper permit, you could be liable for any problems or injuries sustained during the project. Also, if the contractor installs anything improperly and it later needs to be fixed, your insurance is likely not going to cover any expenses.

If your contractor doesn’t have a proper license that meets your state’s requirements, you could be held responsible if issues arise during the project.  To avoid these issues, ask for the contractor’s license (a business license is not the same as a contractor’s license), which you can look up on your city or state’s government website. Remember, if you decide to work with a contractor who isn’t licensed, perhaps because they offer cheap services, you could be responsible for any problems that arise. For example, you could be financially responsible if the contractor or subcontractors cause any damage to your property, or if a worker is injured on your property. You could also be liable if your project doesn’t meet local building codes.

Always think twice about a contractor who isn’t willing to put terms into writing. Always require a written contract that has everything you want and agree to. You and your contractor should sign a final contract that is read by both parties.

Soliciting. Contractor fraud is especially prevalent after storms, and some contractors will even initiate contact with homeowners long after the storm happened. They may use advertisements like flyers and door hangers to solicit the claim.  There are some contractors who use this form of advertising and timeliness as an honest, advantageous search for work, but, again, be guarded and ask questions. It’s good practice to contact your insurance agent — or claims adjuster if the claim has been submitted — prior to agreeing to work with any contractor.

 

If you’re faced with contractor fraud, it may be in your best interest to get an attorney. They’ll be able to help you with your options and show you how to take the appropriate steps. An experienced real estate lawyer or contract attorney are usually your best options to help you. 

The best way to avoid contractor fraud is by making sure you do diligent research to find a trustworthy source. Trust your intuition and make sure you ask the right questions. Call our offices and ask us about customizing your homeowners coverage to give you peace of mind that you’re proactively protecting your home from the unexpected.

 




8/1/2017  What To Do If You Witness a Car Accident

These days, the more time you spend on the road, the greater the odds you'll witness a car accident. Whether you're driving behind a fender-bender, or walking along as a crash takes place nearby, here's how you can be a good citizen and help.

Safety first! If you're driving and an accident takes place in front of you, make sure you pull over to a safe area. Try to be far enough away from the accident to leave room for emergency vehicles, and to ensure that you're not in any danger. Next, put on your hazard lights. Only exit your car if it's safe. If you're on a busy highway, for example, it's probably best if you remain in your vehicle. And, if the cars involved are smoking, definitely keep your distance.

Call for backup. Every second counts in an emergency, so it's best to call 911 ASAP just in case someone is injured. Be prepared to describe the scene, and give your location. Again, make sure your car is in park before you use your cell phone.

Cautiously help out. If you feel it's safe to get closer to the scene of the accident, head over to see how you might be able to help, perhaps by offering your phone so the victims can call relatives or friends, or by setting up road flares to block off the accident area. If you see someone hurt, do not attempt to move them, since that could make their injuries worse. To ensure that those injured receive proper first aid treatment, wait for the authorities to arrive.

Stick around until the police arrive. You can help the authorities and those involved by giving an account of what you witnessed. Or, if someone is hurt or scared, you can act as a source of comfort until someone else arrives.

Tread carefully. In more tense situations, especially if someone was driving inappropriately or recklessly and caused the accident, the victim will benefit from you giving a statement to the police as a witness. Your presence might also help to defuse a possible argument between the drivers, or prevent someone from trying to leave the scene or take advantage of the other party. Just be mindful of your own safety, and try to stay calm.

How you act in those pivotal first few minutes after a car accident can have a meaningful impact on both the victims and the emergency response team. You can make big difference.





7/15/2017  6 ATV Riding Tips for Beginners

Summer and Fall are great ATV times here in Wisconsin.  However, when it comes to ATVs, looks can be deceiving. While those four wheels evoke a sense of confidence, ATVs can pack a punch of dirt bike-style adrenaline. It’s a unique riding experience that requires plenty of practice time to perfect. Here are some ATV safety tips and riding advice for beginners to make 4-wheeling fun.

Make sure you have solid footing. As a new rider, you’ll have enough to think about without worrying about what to do with your feet. With Nerf bars and heel guards, you’ll get the stability you need. Nerf bars are like giant foot pegs that allow you to keep your feet planted during your ride. Heel guards keep your feet where you want them, giving you more control while riding.

Easy on the gas. The accelerator on an ATV is actually a thumb throttle that you press. Getting the feel of the throttle is important for new riders to help build confidence. Go slowly at first. Giving it too much gas can cause the front of the machine to pop up. Practice easing onto the throttle and you’ll find the delicate balance that will keep you riding safe and stable.

Wear protective clothing. As a new rider, you should invest in all the necessary protective clothing and gear you need. Make sure you have a protective jacket, boots that go above your ankle, a helmet, goggles and gloves. When you graduate to more challenging terrain, add a chest protector and knee/shin guards for further protection.

Practice changing gears. If anyone ever taught you how to drive a stick shift, they probably took you to a parking lot or a field and you practiced working the clutch and shifting gears over and over until you felt confident. This same lesson should apply to new ATV riders. Get on the dirt and practice, and when you’ve accomplished smooth, intuitive shifting, you’re ready to join the group for some trail riding.

Work on your riding position. While an ATV has handlebars like a dirt bike, steering an ATV is different. You’ll still use your body to help distribute the weight, but while you’d lean into a curve on a dirt bike, on an ATV you lean to the opposite side of momentum. So, if you're turning right you'll feel pushed to the left and you'll want to lean right.

When you’re on a flat trail enjoying the sights, go ahead and sit down. But if you're picking up speed on a livelier track you’ll need to stand up. It's easier, gives you great visibility and will end up making you a better rider. Hover just above the seat, with your elbows out and knees bent.

Remember that you’re riding on terrain that can have unexpected bumps and dips. Avoid locking your elbows, and keep your knees loose to absorb the movement along the way.

Make your controls second nature. Over time, your ATV’s controls will become second nature. But in the beginning, they’re easy to confuse. So, practice with all your controls. The clutch lever is on the left side of the handlebars, and the brake lever is on the right. Get in the habit of grabbing the handlebars and draping your fingers over these levers every time you sit down.

Becoming a skilled rider and feeling confident comes with time. Your most important challenge as a beginner is learning to shift and work the brake and thumb throttle. Just suit up and practice on various terrains, and as you slowly increase your speed, your coordination and riding will improve, and you’ll experience real 4-wheeling fun.

As with any vehicle, before you turn it on, make sure you have the proper insurance to protect yourself in case of accident.   Call our offices for a free quote or any insurance needs. 

 




6/18/2017  Summer Safety Tips

For many, summer means barbecue season, pool parties, kids’ play dates and outdoor fun. Be safe this summer with the following the following tips.

Grilling:

Trampolines:

Fire pits:

 

Pool time:
  • Never leave children alone in or near a pool without adult supervision – that one second could be all it takes for something to happen.
  • In addition to privacy fences, consider a lock for the gate and an additional mesh pool fence directly around the pool itself.
  • Consider Wi-Fi motion sensors, lights and cameras that connect to your smartphone so you can monitor the backyard and
  • the pool from practically anywhere to make sure no one enters the backyard when you aren’t there.

Review your homeowner’s insurance policy and talk to us if you have questions, regarding your coverage and potential liability issues. 

 




5/14/2017  Avoiding Drowning Accidents

Spring and summer months bring warmer weather, outdoor cookouts, and water activities. Whether you plan to spend time out on a boat, on the beach or lakeside, or simply hanging by the pool, it’s important to be safe.

Basic knowledge of pool and water safety to help reduce the likelihood of a drowning or water related accident. With your safety in mind, we offer you the following tips to reduce the likelihood that you or a loved one are involved in an accident.


Abiding by these tips can go a long way towards ensuring that you have a safe and relaxing summer.