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Permits for repairs go through the roof; insurance rates could rise

By Jessica Priest
Jan. 8, 2013 at 10:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 8, 2013 at 7:09 p.m.


TIPS ON HOW TO HIRE A CONTRACTOR:

•  Be wary of transient contractors or those who solicit door-to-door.

• Work with and get proof that the company is licensed, bonded and insured.

• Make sure the contractor carries workers' compensation. If one of its employees were to fall without it, a homeowner could conceivably be liable for their injuries.

•  Require references and check them out with the Corpus Christi's Better Business Bureau by calling 361-852-4991 or by logging onto bbb.org to see if any complaints have been filed against them.

•  Read carefully over contracts and never sign a contract with blanks. A contract should include the contractor's name, business name, phone number, address and stipulate the kind of work to be done as well as the materials that will be used.

•  Avoid payment in full up front. Some contractors may require a partial up-front payment, but the amount should not exceed 20 percent of the total estimate amount.

•  Verify with the city of Victoria that the company has pulled a building permit for the project. A homeowner could be fined $200 if it is found that they have not.

• Never let anyone persuade you to seek reimbursement for non-existent or exaggerated losses or damages. This is insurance fraud, which is a felony.

•  If anyone performs unauthorized work on your property and demands payment, consider contacting law enforcement.

Source: ALLSTATE Insurance, the Better Business Bureau and City of Victoria

The number of reroofing permits pulled in Victoria increased by almost 400 percent in 2012, a jump that has at least one area insurance agent worried Crossroads homeowners' premiums may rise.

A bulk of the work was completed by two out-of-town contractors - Ameristar Roofing and Restoration, of Richmond, and Quality Assurance Roofing, of Katy.

Southern Roofing, an area contractor, came in third, according to information obtained by the Victoria Advocate via an open records request.

Russell Janecka, of the Janecka Insurance Agency, a subsidiary of national insurance agency Germania, describes the reroofing rush as "neighboritis."

He described this as an aggressive door-to-door campaign coupled with little roof know-how and the allure of possibly and fraudulently not incurring a deductible. This can allow roofers to exploit a homeowner's "natural fear of loss or inclination to take advantage of an opportunity," he said.

Janecka said insurance companies only want to pay claims they consider legitimate or those in which there's evidence the structure lost its integrity via a hurricane, a tornado, wind or hail storm.

He said the two storms the region saw earlier in the year were isolated. He said his office has seen some claims that may be considered questionable.

"That's what confuses the consumer," Janecka said. "They say, 'Well, my neighbor got a "Yes" from somebody else. Why don't I get a "Yes" from you?' ... It's that feeling that if they got one I need one, too, and that's not really relevant on the finding that your roof has damage."

While a permit may be obtained for roofing work, that does not mean a claim was filed with an insurance company.

The average premium for Texas homeowners was $1,560 in 2010, up almost 7 percent from figures in 2008. It's the most expensive in the nation, which had an average premium of $909 at the same time, according to Insurance Information Institute.

Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas, agreed that an onslaught of claims could drive up insurance premiums, but he guessed from an outside perspective that the about 400 homes that underwent roofing construction last year wouldn't be "catastrophic" enough to make that happen.

Hanna, who monitors the effects of events such as the golf ball-sized hail that recently "clobbered" the Dallas-Fort Worth region, also said no extreme weather in the Crossroads popped up on his radar.

An interactive map on the Insurance Council of Texas' website showed that 1-inch-sized hail fell in Victoria County on April 15, causing about $10,000 worth of damage, which Hanna said could be about the cost of a replacement roof.

Hanna said the figure comes unofficially from the National Weather Service, which collects anecdotal data from residents who call in during a storm.

Rueben Stafford, owner of Ameristar Roofing and Restoration, said he learned about the area's bad weather from a past client and it's been "hot and heavy ever since."

Stafford, who typically sends out his crews anywhere within a 100-mile radius of his office, said he uses a tool on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website. The damage, he said, could have been caused by any number of storms in years prior.

On May 10, a small tornado touched down in Inez, destroying a barn. Also, at 6:30 p.m. June 7, a down burst of wind ripped off a Victoria apartment complex's roof and downed several trees, according to the administration's website.

"You can't carbon date damage though," Stafford said. "Sometimes, a homeowner that has a roof that's at the end of its life span gets really lucky if a storm event comes because they end up getting their roof replaced instead of it coming out of pocket."

He said that may be the circumstance for some of the 70 to 80 percent of the roofs his employees discovered had wind and hail damage, which because of their old age didn't have necessarily any quick fixes.

Stafford attributes his 5-year-old business' success in the region to advertising on the radio, word-of-mouth and a program in which he pays customers $100 to post his yard signs, not canvassing neighborhoods.

That's roughly the same strategy used by Quality Assurance Roofing, manager Anthony Bray said.

"We're not a high-pressure sales company. We let our work speak for itself," Bray said, adding they also subscribe to services such as hailwatch.com that alerts them to the latest forecast.

Stafford anticipates his company has about six months' worth of more work.

"We're not just going to pull out," he said.

Bobby Buhler, owner of Buhler Roofing, which has operated in the community about 30 years, said the more, the merrier.

He said he's been inundated with 10 to 15 calls from customers he installed roofs for about 20 years ago and wasn't surprised by newcomers arriving, especially after the storm reports were published.

"Insurance prices are going to go up regardless of what happens just because insurance is not going to go down," he said. "There's enough work for everybody."

And most of the Ameristar and Quality Assurance's customers the Victoria Advocate contacted weren't complaining, either.

Alma Barefield said she shopped around and consulted with her most prudent neighbors before hiring Ameristar to patch a hole in her roof that was dripping rainwater onto her bed.

She happened upon their number while garage sale shopping one weekend.

A 72-year-old forced to make unfamiliar household decisions after her husband's death in March 2007, Barefield said she feels confident about her decision.

"Everywhere I go, there's nothing but Ameristar, Ameristar, Ameristar, ... I said, 'Gollee, if those great, big ol' homes have these people, they must be pretty good!'" she said.

Jerry Horvath, whose wife works for the Advocate, hired Quality Assurance Roofing in November after he noticed the construction going on in his neighborhood and remembered a storm that he said boasted 60 mph winds.

He said his insurance agent had no qualms about paying to replace his nearly 20-year-old roof that he said had extensive wind damage, which both the contractor and the insurance adjuster documented using chalk.

"My roof looked like a crime scene after they were finished," Horvath said, chuckling.

Carol Anderson, meanwhile, was upset about a job she said Ameristar roped her into. They climbed aboard her roof after accidentally transposing the address of one of their customers, and, after ripping off some shingles, frantically attempted to contact her to fix the problem at no cost.

Anderson, in midst of caring for her elderly mother, authorized them to complete the job even though she wasn't necessarily in the market for a new roof. She worries now that because she wasn't given any document indicating she has a warranty that the new roof will fail and she'll be left footing the bill.

"I just don't know what my options are now," she said.

Anderson recently received a certified letter from Whole Sale Roofing Co., but did not accept it because she was unsure whether it was the warranty Ameristar promised and feared she might be liable for the materials used in the job.

Stafford said Anderson was given the same, if not better, materials than his usual customers as well as a five-year warranty to remedy the mistake.

Ameristar has had nine complaints against it in the past three years. Five of those were related to problems with products or services, and three were related to warranty issues, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Alan Bligh, the BBB's regional director, said nine complaints aren't necessarily foreboding when one takes into account the company's volume of business. He said, above all, no one should rush into a transaction that can affect your home for years to come.

"If you don't have water coming in, take your time. Shop around," he said.

Southern Roofing owner Garland Southern said out-of-town contractors bested his 39-year-old company possibly because they have more manpower.

"But I've got a really great customer base. They're very loyal," he said, adding he has a few more roofs to fix during the next couple of months. "I think it's kind of over now. The insurance companies started out paying real strong, but now they've kind of shut the faucet off."

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