After Ida: Simple steps to hire the best contractor

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- In the wake of historic flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida, hundreds of homeowners in our area who suffered flood damage are desperate to even get a contractor to give an estimate.

And the stakes are high. Since floods aren't covered under most homeowner's policies, many homeowners are paying for renovations out of their own pocket.

The first step is to get at least three estimates in writing from contractors. Remember, the low bid isn't always the best bid.

Next, research the contractor.

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The most important tip is to make sure the contractor is licensed in the state or municipality in which the work will be done.

It's the law, and it's easy to check.

While you're at it, ask for proof of insurance.

Punch the contractor's name into Google with words like "complaint," "scam," or "review" to see what comments come up.

Once you've narrowed down your search, ask the contractor for a list of recent local references you can check.

In addition to the quality of the work, ask if their contractor stuck to the estimated budget and completion date.

"We understand that it can be a challenge, when your home has been devastated by water damage, to go through all those steps," said Peter Hatch, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. "So we do our best to make it easy. We have models on our website folks can look at to see what should a written estimate include, get an agreement in writing, a contract that will lay out how much work is going to be done, when it will start, approximately when it will end, what materials will be needed, so that you have visibility and transparency into it, and you know what it will cost."

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Some big takeaways:

--Never pay in full up front. Instead, break it up into three or four payments, with the last payment due only after the job is completed to your satisfaction.

--Don't pay in cash. Instead, use a check or credit card. And if you're writing a check, make it out to the company and not "cash" or someone's name.

--Beware of fake FEMA inspectors: Fema will never ask for your Social Security number or to pay up front for funding.

The New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection also has a page of tips for hiring a home improvement contractor.

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