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How to avoid schemes when contractors work on your home

Severe weather often damages trees. How homeowners can avoid some tree trimming schemes that can also damage your pocketbook.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Severe weather can mean severe headaches for homeowners. It can take down tree branches, which can cause costly damage to homes and property. Homeowners often hire tree trimming services to reduce the destruction. Here is what you need to know when you hire a tree trimmer, so you are not left with a bigger mess:

Broken branches after a thunderstorm left Veronica Miller of San Antonio worried more damage would be done.

“One of the branches that was on one of our largest trees was halfway snapped and it was dangling over the roof of one of our neighbors and we were a little concerned about it,” she said.

She called a tree trimming service after getting a recommendation from a family member.

“We were very pleased to have him come on such short notice and have it taken care of so quickly,” Miller said.

Miller said the tree trimmer asked for $1250 in cash up front to trim seven trees and haul away the debris.

“He said he would not take a check,” she said. “He insisted, absolutely insisted in cash.”

There was no contract and no receipt. She said he took the cash, cut the trees and left without removing the branches as promised.

“This giant pile is taking up the main part of my grassy area,” she said. “It’s taking up half my yard.”

Miller said she asked the tree trimmer for days through text and calls to return to pick up the pile as promised.

“Then he just blocked me. He blocked my phone and stopped taking any of my phone calls and messages and he also blocked my husband’s phone number,” she said.

Never pay a contractor with cash upfront warned the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

“Cash to someone you know personally might be OK,” said Jason Meza, the regional director for the BBB. “But for a contractor who’s in your home, who’s doing a project over $500, who you’re going to want a guarantee from, cash is never the best way to go. Even with receipts in hand, it’s best to use a secure method. That way you have protection to dispute if you need to get your money back from a deposit.”

A credit card would be a secure way to pay. Also, pay attention if the contractor goes door-to-door after a storm.

“Solicited versus unsolicited,” said Meza. “Did you reach out directly to get a quote or an estimate to a business? If you did, you’re expecting them on your property. Unsolicited opens up a lot more doors to potential fraud. We’re not saying that they are not a legit business. More than likely they are. Unsolicited, be very leery of whoever you’re letting on your roof or in your house because you don’t know who they are.”

Instead, he recommends checking with your homeowner’s insurance first.

“You want to make a claim and go that direction first,” said Meza. “Many of them offer free inspection on their own or the adjuster will say, we have tips on how to mitigate this if it’s an emergency and maybe even some recommendations for contractors they work with.”

Even with a recommendation, check the BBB website before you hire a contractor. It is one step Miller wished she took. She found the contractor she hired had an F rating with the BBB, one out of five stars for customer reviews and several similar complaints of not returning to haul away the branches from trimmed trees.

“Don’t be in such a hurry to get the job done,” she said. “Take your time to look up these places.”

Miller said the tree trimmer finally hauled away the branches four days later after a family member reached him by phone and complained.

If you have a question for Eyewitness Wants To Know, email us at EWTK@KENS5.com or call us as 210-377-8647.