Select a roofer with care

If your home has been damaged by a storm, don't rush into choosing a roofing contractor.

Published April 17, 2005

If it turned out that your roof wasn't hurricane-proof, how do you select a contractor to repair it?

Some homeowners sign on with the first roofing contractor they can get on the phone. Don't do that, roofing contractors say.

"Buy yourself some time till you can get someone to do a good repair," said John Anderson, whose Tampa contracting company carries his name. "If you jump on the first person who comes along, you'll end up in worse shape than you were before."

Roofing contractors offer these tips:

--If your roof was damaged by a hurricane, take photographs and call your insurance company, which may want to inspect before repairs are made. Typically, insurers will encourage you to secure your property so you sustain no further damage. If the roof isn't too high or too steep, you may be able to get up there to cover the damage with a tarp held down with sandbags or with a piece of plywood.

But be careful. Walking on a roof may damage it further, or you may fall and injure yourself. Proceed with caution.

--Seek recommendations from friends, neighbors and co-workers. Obtain several estimates. Look for someone who has been in business for some time. Be sure the roofer has experience with the kind of roof you want: shingles, tile, metal, built-up. Check out roofers with the Better Business Bureau. Visit your county construction licensing board to read the roofer's file and study the complaint history, if any.

Roofers must be licensed and should carry both worker's compensation and general liability insurance. The contractor's vehicle and paperwork - estimates, contracts and business cards - must bear the contractor's license number. Beware of contractors who show up in an unmarked pickup and have only a cell phone and no office address. You can check a roofer's license at www.myfloridalicense.com

--Determine exactly who will be doing the work: the roofer, or another company to whom the roofer subcontracts the job? Subcontracting is common and there's nothing inherently wrong with it, but make sure that the subcontractor is also licensed and insured. Check out the subcontractor as carefully as you checked out the roofer.

--Ask for references, then check them. Call several previous customers to see how satisfied they are and whether they would use the roofer again.

--Have the roofer specify the exact materials to be used, then call a roofing supply house. Ask whether those are top-of-the-line materials or the cheapest basics. Make sure you understand what you're getting. As you solicit bids from several roofers, make sure they're all bidding on the same specifications.

--Beware of the roofer who wants large amounts of upfront money. "Any reputable roofer will want some money up front," said George Heppelle, a certified remodeler with Strobel Building in St. Petersburg. That may be from 10 to 25 percent. The roofer may want another 25 percent when the materials are delivered to the job site and will expect the balance upon completion of the job. "But anything out of the ordinary of that gets scary," Heppelle cautioned.

-- Determine start and completion date of the work. You don't want a half-finished job sitting there untouched for weeks or months. The roofer you ultimately hire may be able to do a quick temporary fix to keep you dry until the real work starts.

-- What does the warranty cover? The work? For how long? What is the manufacturer's warranty on the material?

-- Don't do business with a roofer who wants you, the homeowner, to obtain permits. That's often the sign of an unlicensed contractor. "If they ask you to pull your own permits, something's not right," said Eileen Peel, contract administrator at Duncan Roofs in St. Petersburg.

-- The contract should detail how the roofer will dispose of old materials, avoid damaging your landscaping, and keep your property safe (pick up loose nails and scraps of material).

The Florida Home Builders Association has posted on its Web site a model residential rebuilding contract, designed to help homeowners who sustained hurricane damage avoid unscrupulous contractors. The Web site includes consumer warnings, a review of state lien law, contract instructions and the model contract. The contract can be used as is or modified to suit consumers' particular needs. The Web site is at www.fhba.com On the left blue bar, click on "Consumer Services," then on "Contracts," then on "Damage Rebuild Contract for Consumers."