SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Thousands of Californians suddenly have storm damage to their homes or businesses -- and they need repairs. But contractors may be overwhelmed, and fraudsters may be lurking.
Fallen trees, smashed roofs, flooded rooms. Homeowners want to fix the damage as soon as possible... but state regulators say slow down before making big repairs.
For homeowners across the Bay Area, waiting out the storms is just the beginning.
"When a tree falls on someone's house, my heart goes to that poor homeowner, and where I hope we get a good contractor to get them back in their house," says Lisa Wittke Schaffner of the North Coast Builders Exchange.
The next challenge is how to fix major damage to their homes.
"Avoid rushing into repairs, no matter how badly they are needed," says Natalie Watmore of the Contractors State License Board.
The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) says folks may be so eager to fix the damage, they could fall into a trap.
"Get at least three bids and avoid hiring the first contractor who comes along, especially if they're doing door to door," says Watmore.
Predators often target victims in disaster zones, going door to door, offering swift repairs. Some may be legit, others may be unqualified, unlicensed or unscrupulous.
"They often say, 'Oh, I have leftover materials from another job I just did, do you want me to fix your driveway?' and they do a completely shoddy job. And it's really hard for the consumer to have any recourse," says Watmore.
"You could give someone money, and then your job's not done right. And then chasing them down is a very scary place," says Wittke Schaffner. "If they don't have a website or a name on their truck, I would say probably your eyebrows need to go up a little bit."
Instead, consumer advocates say to find a licensed contractor for the type of work you need. The cslb website has a complete list of those in your area.
They also urge consumers to get all contract terms in writing, and show the contract to your insurance provider to make sure your policy will cover the work.
Remember, by law, a contractor cannot charge you a down payment of more than 10 percent or $1,000 dollars, whichever is lower.
Also, the contractor may only take additional payments as the work progresses.
"And do not sign a digital contract. Always ask for a written printed paper copy of the contract," advises Watmore.
You may be worried about finding any contractor at all, with demand so high after the storms. But the CSLB does provide a list of all licensed contractors on their website.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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