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Contractors' guarantees are no guarantee at all

roofwork_optBY LORI SENDER

Our roofer was looking rather frail so I asked for some type of guarantee on his work. He turned to me in earnest that clear fall day and vowed his business-partner son would be responsible if a problem should arise. One year later, following a slight rainfall, we notice leaking over the front porch.

After rooting through some old receipts I locate Henry's phone number, only to find his phone has been disconnected. I turn to the Internet for his whereabouts, and there it is – clear as the faulty overlap of his shingles – in his obituary. Using my best non-ticked-off voice, I call up his son.

"I don't know why my father would have said that," he says. "I'm in the awning business, not roofing."

And so it goes. We have insurance coverage for hurricane, high winds, strong rain, and flooding, which so far has taken nary a flake of stucco from our 100-year-old rental property house in Bradley Beach, NJ. But when it comes to shoddy general contractors, inept roofers and reckless painters, matters where true insurance is needed, it's never extended.

Why is that? It occurs to me, if I go to an auto mechanic and he puts in a muffler that drops out the next week, I can go back and get another; if I go to a dentist and the crown loosens, he'll replace it. But most contractors have no store front to return to, no accountability, so we're left with their personal integrity. And it's hard enough finding that in the living.

I'm thinking I should at least attempt invoking our homeowners insurance company.

Something like ...

"Hi, we've had homeowners insurance with you for the past fifteen years, along with car insurance and, well, personal articles too, if you really want to be technical. Anyway, after last week's rain, but not because of last week's rain, or to be more exact, because of last year's poor performance by a roofer, we have a leaky roof. I won't lie to you and say it was hurricane-force rains, to be honest it was a tablespoon of water hitting our roof that day. OK, maybe a cupful. So there you have it.

And they'll respond, "Please hold while I look up your policy."

And I'll be thinking how ridiculous that sounded ... poor performance by a roofer, what is this, Fiddler on the Roof?

OK, enough invoking, I decide to call. A rather kind, sweet, claims adjuster tells me how sorry she is, which I can't help believing, and then proceeds to lay out our deductible and how they'll only cover damage done by the roof, not the roof itself. Basically, a few nails to fix the increasingly sagging porch ceiling, and some paint. She asks if I ever got a certificate of insurance from the roofer which my husband tells me is rare with these small contractors (he never asked).

My husband reminds me, that two years back our primary insurance dropped us, during the height of insurance dropping of shore properties (or any homes with two losses within a three-year-period) and that this new company doubled our deductible.

I'm weary, too tired to focus. Listening to my husband it all sounds warped. But I get it. Good luck, suckers. And yes, I know, we have our health.

The problem with turning fifty isn't just creaky knees and aching hips, but the sober realization of all the times you've had to redo house projects. Add to that the far-reaching memory of our own parents' craftsman-like handymen, you know, where our mothers calmly offered them a cup of coffee and our fathers returned from work to inspect a job well done.

I tell myself the best things in life are free, not to fret the small stuff that gouge you for all you're worth ... but still, at my son's Bar Mitzvah, I may just stand on the bimah, look out at my friends and family, and say, "Today it's bagels and lox for all, the roofer took the rest."

Comments (1)
1 Thursday, 23 September 2010 08:30
Anyone who hires a contractor should do a background check, get referrals, check the business license, and ask for a certificate of insurance, and then with the paperwork provided, call to confirm that these docs are for real.

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