WASILLA — Many buildings across the Mat-Su Valley were relatively unaffected by the 7.0 earthquake on Nov. 30. However, a number of personal and professional structures sustained heavy damage from the tremors and for those still looking for a trustworthy contractor to make repairs, there’s plenty of recommended do’s and don’ts, according to information from University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and Alaska Department of Commerce.

“Avoid door-to-door solicitors who offer restoration work,” says the Cooperative Extension Service. “They are especially common after disaster.”

It’s not certain how long scammers will continue to attempt to profit from the recent statewide disaster and home owners are still discovering what needs to be repaired. There may be people who go from door to door in your neighborhood, attempting to sell their services as self-proclaimed handymen. The very fact they are going door to door should be a red flag, according to the Cooperative Extension Service.

The Cooperative Extension Service also cautions consumers to be wary of any contractor that tries to rush you to make a decision and to be sure to actually shop around, comparing bids with multiple contractors.

Most but not all states require contractors to be licensed, bonded registered, and/or certified. In Alaska, the first thing to look for when evaluating contactors should be checking their credentials because according to the Alaska Department of Commerce, most contractors that provide residential home improvements are required to be licensed by the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing.

The Alaska Department of Commerce also indicated that general contractors must also post a bond for $25,000 and specialty contractors must post $10,000 and homeowners may use the bond as a source of funds if the work is negligently performed.

“Warning: Sometimes people will say they are ‘licensed and insured’ when they only have a business license and liability insurance -- not a professional license and a bond,” according to the Alaska Department of Commerce.

Here is a general list of do’s and don’ts with combined information collected from the Cooperative Extension Service and Alaska Department of Commerce:

Do

Ask your contractor to provide their credentials. Watch for expired, falsified or otherwise suspicious information.

Check the Better Business Bureau. Use the BBB website or call them for records of complaints about local companies

Try to interview three or more contactors. Do this to compare not just their prices but also observing their suggested approaches, materials and overall expertise. You should also ask each contractor to provide at least three references for jobs similar to the one at hand.

Utilize websites that you trust. Use these to compare reviews of local contractors but use sound judgment when using these sites.

Establish a paper trail. Insist on a detailed written contract, avoid paying in cash and ask for written estimates. A paper trail is one of the most valuable tools to prove yourself if it comes down to that.

Don’t

Hire contractors without insurance or a valid license. This should be a simple line of questioning. Ask them to provide their credentials and if they act evasive, just move on to the next candidate.

Pay it all up front. Do not pay the contractor in full before the project is complete; rather make partial payments through the different stages of completion. Most projects are paid in installments and if the contractor insists on a full payment upfront, that should be call for suspicion and reason to seek out other contractors.

Pay for materials without copies of receipts or a lien waiver. Keep up with that paper trail.

Start the project without a contract. Once you feel secure and confident that you made the right choice in a contractor, have them sign a contract. This contract should clearly outline your expectations, the contractor’s obligations to acquire proper permits and insurances, estimated start and compete dates, total cost and payment schedule, requirement for vendor receipts or lien wavers, an agreement to withhold final payment until job competition and inspection, and warranties that cover workmanship and materials.

Keep things to yourself. You have the final say. Do not make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work.

In conclusion

Remember, you have rights and you are the one paying for the work so try not to rush into a decision and utilize available resources.

Anyone who’s considering hiring a contractor can use the state’s website to search their professional licenses. The link is: www.commerce.alaska.gov/cbp/main/Search/Professional

The Alaska Consumer Protection Unit’s phone number is 888-576-2529.

The BBB website is www.bbb.org and their customer service line is 1 (703) 276-0100).

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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