Storm repairs tough for residents, contractors - News-Times: News

Storm repairs tough for residents, contractors

MIKE SHUTAK | Posted: Friday, January 11, 2019 12:00 pm

MOREHEAD CITY — Throughout Carteret County, property owners are still getting repairs done after Hurricane Florence, but finding good contractors is difficult for some of them.

Many local contractors are booked solid, and some from outside the area have turned out to be engaging in dodgy business practices, according to the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau’s North Carolina branch. In Morehead City, two couples have told the News-Times about their own challenges finding people to fix the damage done by the hurricane that made landfall in North Carolina in September.

Melba Carr and her husband, George, live on Country Club Road in Morehead City.  Ms. Carr contacted the News-Times Monday to express her concerns about how hard it’s been finding a reliable contractor to fix their roof. It’s a problem she thinks a lot of people in the county are likely having.

“I talked to one (contractor) in Jacksonville and one in Morehead City,” she said. “I got an estimate from one in Morehead City, but he wanted 50 percent upfront, and the timeframe (of the work) was 60 to 90 days.”

Ms. Carr said it took her months to find a contractor that would even give her an estimate. As for the out-of-town contractors, Ms. Carr said she’s “leery” of hiring someone that’s not local.

Ms. Carr said she’s tried to hire a local contractor she trusts, but they’re already booked.

“I trust Willis Roofing Company,” she said, referring to Willis Roofing Services of Morehead City. “I tried to get their business, but I can’t.”

Ms. Carr said two friends of hers that also live on Country Club Road – John and Nancy Gooden – have had their own troubles with contractors. Mr. Gooden said that during Florence, an area of shingles got pulled off the roof over their bathroom, resulting in water leaking into the ceiling and walls, causing mold and part of the ceiling to fall.

“I had a paint contractor tell me he was an excellent tile contractor too,” Mr. Gooden said. “He was going to redo my bathroom with tile; I had to fire him.”

Mr. Gooden said that while the first contractor did a good job with the ceiling and wall repairs, the tile work was subpar; he had to hire a new contractor, who’s going to have to strip out all the tile work done in the bathroom, down to the bare walls and floor.

“That’s a couple thousand dollars more (expense) than expected,” Mr. Gooden said. “The guy’s insured, so I won’t lose any more than that.”

Mr. Gooden stressed that their first contractor is “a good guy,” but “got in over his head.”

Meanwhile, situations like those of the Carrs and the Goodens don’t seem to be uncommon in Carteret County. Carteret County Chamber of Commerce President Tom Kies said they’ve found hiring a contractor is “problematic” due to all the damage in the region.

“I’ve heard that in some cases, contractors and roofers are booked two years out,” he said. “We’ve also has a few phone calls from being being ‘scammed.’ These seem to be out-of-town operations.”

The BBB North Carolina branch seems to agree with Mr. Kies. BBB of Eastern North Carolina Director of Communications Alyssa Gutierez said that as of Monday, they’ve received upwards of 200 calls about dishonest companies coming into the state and overcharging, taking payment and not doing agreed-upon work or just taking the money and not doing any work at all.

“We don’t have hard numbers because consumers that called chose not to file a scam tracker report or file a complaint because it was time consuming or the company didn’t even exist,” Ms. Gutierrez said. “A good number of those (calls) came out of the Morehead City area.”

Ms. Gutierrez said the BBB isn’t aware of any action being taken on a large scale due to how “fly-by-night” contractors will drive in after a storm like Florence and leave several weeks to months later.

“We have even had businesses reach out to us to try and become a BBB accredited business in order to seem more reliable after these storms happen,” she said. “We didn’t let that happen, but oftentimes it’s difficult to catch them because they leave so quickly.”

Ms. Gutierrez said the bureau advises property owners looking to hire a contractor to “do their homework.” She said that in North Carolina, a contractor must be insured if the job is $30,000 or more.

“It’s always wise to work with someone insure, regardless of how big or small the job is,” she said. “Always check with BBB.org or call our office at 919-277-4222 to learn how long the company has been in business, their complaint history and their letter grade (A-F).”

Ms. Gutierrez also advised property owners to get at least  three estimates before deciding on a contractor to select. She also said it’s a good idea to try and establish relationships with contractors before an impending storm so that in a time of disaster, a property owner knows who he or she can call.

The BBB offers an informational handout for anyone who needs to make repairs after a natural disaster. This handout is available at the website bbb.org/globalassets/local-bbbs/raleigh-nc-66/bbb-natural-disaster-brochure.pdf.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kies advised local property owners who need their houses and/or buildings repaired to stick with contractors, builders and roofers in the local area. Local businesses who are members of the chamber have information available on the chamber’s website nccoastchamber.com.

Mr. Kies also advised not to hire contractors who insist on any payment upfront.

“That’s the complaint we hear the most,” he said, “That a contractor requested money up front to ‘go buy materials’ and then they’re never heard from again.”  

He also advised getting written estimates. He said the chamber also has heard complaints that homeowners get verbal estimates, then the actual cost of the work is thousands of dollars more.

“Get the estimate in writing,” Mr. Kies said. “Ask for references and then check on them. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged (against a given contractor).”

Mr. Kies also said the chamber asks property owners looking for a contractor to “please be patient.”

“Even one of our own staff is still waiting to have her roof repaired,” he said. “There was a massive amount of damage done (by Florence) and it’s going to take a long time to get the county back to normal.”

The demand for reliable contractors caused by Florence has made things difficult not just for property owners, but the contractors as well. Brimco Builders’ Brian Deanhardt said business has been difficult for him because of the overwhelming demand and the shortage of workers.

“It’s slowed our business down to a snail’s pace,” Mr. Deanhardt said. “Carteret County doesn’t have a big workforce, and hiring unlicensed people isn’t a good idea.”

Mr. Deanhardt said the demands are so numerous, his business had to stop accepting hurricane repair jobs and focus on their prior customers for whom they built custom homes.

One of these customers, who asked not to be named, is in Atlantic Beach. Brimco workmen were out at her home Tuesday, making repairs. The homeowner said the damage could have been worse, but storm shutters from Atlantic Breeze saved her windows.  

Meanwhile, Mr. Deanhard said that he’s had to turn down “hundreds of calls,” from people needing repairs.

“(As a contractor) you’re getting drowned in a sea of paperwork with insurance companies,” he said. “We’re turning into adjusters for the insurance companies. Many of them only want to pay the least amount for repairs they can.”

Mr. Deanhardt said repairing storm damage often results in uncovering long-standing problems in houses, which results in delays.

“I don’t like to do repair work, and it’s taking forever,” he said. “I’ve got a dozen clients and there’s probably thousands out there (with storm damage).”

Mr. Deanhardt said he thinks the media has “dropped us off the face of the Earth,” moving away from coverage of ongoing storm recovery and people’s continued need for assistance.

“My biggest fear is people walking away from their houses,” he said.

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.