November 18, 2020

Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection Offers Advice When Considering Roof Replacement—Tips from Top to Bottom

The cause might have been damage from recent high wind and powerful rainstorms. Perhaps age has just caught up with it. It all means that replacing a roof is eventually an obligation for homeowners. Although most roofing replacements have common elements, each job has its individual aspects. Regardless of the complications of the job, the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) wants homeowners to be aware of certain aspects of the roofing industry so they can buy knowledgably and avoid scams that have become common in the business.

Most roofing companies have good reputations. Their work can be—and should be—checked on consumer websites that offer customer reviews. However, prices can vary greatly even among honest companies, so it is highly advisable to get several estimates. Lurking in the industry are dishonest companies. OCP wants consumers to be able to recognize those companies to lessen the chance they will get taken in an expensive scam.

“Many roofing companies were unable to work in Maryland for almost two months this spring due to restrictions from the COVID-19 health crisis,” said OCP Director Eric Friedman. “That has led to a backup in roofing jobs, with most companies continuing to be busy even with the approach of winter—traditionally a slower season in the roofing business. That time crunch has led to added high pressure sales techniques by some companies. It also has led to more unlicensed companies surfacing and preying on homeowners who think they are hearing about one-time great deals. Replacing a roof is one of the largest investments a homeowner will make in their house. Homeowners need to be patient, must do some checking and should follow our tips to help avoid being taken by a roofing scammer.”

Among the types of companies that OCP is warning about are those known as Woodchucks. They are unlicensed contractors who typically come door-to-door or engage in a job to trim trees, pick up debris or do basic landscaping. They also may place flyers in neighborhoods and solicit landscaping work. While working on trees, they will undoubtedly find wind damage to roofs, siding or gutters. They also may talk homeowners into undertaking improvement projects to occur inside the home. They will take the deposit, and if they return at all, they will do an incomplete or shoddy job. The bottom line: do not hire unlicensed contractors.

“Storm chasers” pay attention when there has been hail, high winds and rain because they know that insurance companies are more likely to grant a damage claim after such weather. In this type of scam, storm chasing contractors will blanket an area hit by hail or wind damage and look for unsuspecting homeowners in need of roof (or siding and gutter) repairs—especially those looking to have work done quickly. They will pass out leaflets and even show up unannounced or offer a free inspection. Based on the square footage of the roof, they can figure out how much it will cost to put on a cheap new roof. The homeowner gets burned because the storm chaser only does the bare minimum to replace the roof and does not address any other problems or restore the roof to its original condition. The homeowner is left with a poorly constructed roof, lasting perhaps five-to-seven years. The installing company that was once so ready to help has vanished—along with that long warranty it promised.

Another variant of the storm chaser is the company that gets the homeowner to sign an “agreement to agree.” The roofer offers to work with the insurance company to save the homeowner the effort. However, the agreement to agree says that if the roofer does get the insurance company to pay on a claim, the homeowner must use that roofer—and not any other roofer—even if the homeowner changes their mind about needing a repair or finds a cheaper roofer. Consumers have been contacted by lawyers making demands for the full contract price even though the roof has been replaced by another company and paid for by the insurance company.

OCP offers the following tips on avoiding woodchucks, storm chasers and other bad roofing experiences:

  • Estimates: Get more than one estimate and let the companies know you are shopping the job to competitors. On its website, OCP provides a list of questions you can ask. When choosing shingles and other materials, ask the optimal temperature for your new roof and shingles to “cure” or lay flat. Many consumers file complaints due to rippling shingles that require summer heat to cure.
  • Licenses: Ask to see the contractor’s Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC) license and verify that it belongs to the company making the bid. If the company is coming door-to-door, ask for its door-to-door vendor license issued by the County’s Department of Permitting Services.
  • Research: Search for the business online and specifically find reviews from past customers. Check into the complaint history with consumer agencies like OCP or the Better Business Bureau.
  • Contract: Get a signed contract that specifies the scope of work, the exact materials to be used, start and end date and the payment terms. That way there will be no surprise add-ons later. The contract must have certain other details such as contact information, MHIC contact information and license number.
  • Color: Shingles come in many colors. During the COVID-19 health crisis, some manufacturers have only been producing shingles in colors in primary demand. If a certain shingle color is important, the homeowner should ask in advance if a contractor has access to the color they want—or how long a delay may be incurred to get that color.
  • Warranty: Get the warranty in writing to understand if it is a workmanship and/or a materials warranty. The roofer may not be around in 20 years, but the materials manufacturer may be. One problem with current roofing materials: companies offer materials that are guaranteed for 40 or 50 years. How many contractors—or materials manufacturers—can be expected to be around four or five decades later to make good on those warranties?
  • Cancellation: If the contract is signed at home, the homeowner has the right to cancel within five days (seven days for seniors).
  • Payment: In the case of work to be done due to damage covered by their insurance policy, homeowners should directly work with the insurance company. That way, they will understand the impact of the claim on coverage and possible increases on future premiums. If the homeowner pays directly, using a credit card can help if a contract dispute arises. One note: some contractors may increase the price by two to four percent to cover the cost they must pay the credit card company. Be sure this is clear. In Maryland, a contractor can only request a 25 percent deposit for work to be performed.