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A storm brought hail to Rock Hill, then it brought a hail of roofing salespeople

A picture of nine words that is worth a thousand words, this sign from an exasperated Rock Hill resident encompasses the frustration many of his neighbors felt in the days following a hailstorm.
Scott Morgan
South Carolina Public Radio
A picture of nine words that is worth a thousand words, this sign from an exasperated Rock Hill resident encompasses the frustration many of his neighbors felt in the days following a hailstorm.

Take another look at the photo above. Its politeness is endearing, but its note of frustration is an authentic reflection of the mood around the Northside Rock Hill neighborhood where it hangs, on a gate, about 20 feet before a walkway to the front door of a house.

On April 20, a sudden storm dumped hail, between the sizes of ping pong balls and baseballs, on York County. The worst-hit areas were Northside, Downtown, and, especially, Southside Rock Hill, although according to county officials, the storm caused (as of this publishing) about $5 million in damages around the county.

That’s just public property, by the way. A county spokesman said in a text that $5 million is “an evolving number” likely to change, and that it does not reflect damages to private properties or businesses.

On top of dealing with some severe damage to their private properties, homeowners (and renters) in Rock Hill and elsewhere in York County found themselves beset upon by roofing salespeople within hours of the last chunk of hail hitting the ground in April. The gentleman who put up the sign saying, “We already have a roofing company coming, thank you” did so about five days later, because salespeople kept opening his gate and pitching their services.

The sign has worked, for the record.

As an aside, the gentleman (who did not give his name) was a roofer before he retired, and put the roof on his own house in 1999. It does need an upgrade, and he said the hailstorm supercharged the urgency. And he does have a contractor’s sign at the end of his driveway, for a roofer recommended to him by a trusted other contractor.

But the gentleman’s experience fielding a deluge of sales visitors is a familiar story all over the city. One resident said the doorbell at her mother’s house rang within an hour of the storm. Another resident said she lost count of the number of roofing company cards she was presented, even as she was assessing whether the hail did any real damage to her home (it didn’t).

Nearly every resident I’ve spoken with following the storm, however, talked about pushy salespeople waving three-page contracts and urging them to sign for a free estimate.

This is where residents’ frustrations are highest. No one I met has an issue with businesses trying to drum up business, and everyone I asked understands that there are ethical roofers who suffer the folly of people in their industry who employ sometimes aggressive sales tactics to get business.

The problem, as explained by Dawn Johnson, an insurance professional in Rock Hill, is that the more opportunistic roofing companies trust their public face to people who might not really know anything about roofing.

“These are the people that they pull out of the community and say, ‘Every contract that you get signed, you get $100,’” Johnson said. “They have no understanding, no depth of what they're telling people. They're just trying to get $100 per signed contract, and they'll do whatever they can to do it.”

Johnson said she knows this because a lot of insurance adjusters hear story after story about this very thing happening; and also stories about disappointing work being done by (often) out-of-area roofers who don’t finish jobs, door them poorly, or take a down payment and never do the work.

About those three-page contracts – known as contingency agreements, which allow a contractor to work out project deals directly with a homeowner’s insurance company – Johnson said it’s important for homeowners to know they do not have to sign one in order to get an estimate.

In fact, she said the best approach for anyone with something like hail damage to the roof is to call the insurance company before getting any estimates from roofers. The insurer will let homeowners know what is covered and how much the policy will pay towards repairs.

From there, Johnson said, call a few contractors, hear their estimates, and work out who gets the job.

She also said that the best contractors usually come through trusted recommendations, like what happened with the gentleman who hung the sign on his front gate.

On hiring a trustworthy roofer

Despite that the roofing industry gets a bad reputation, there are good, ethical companies out there. Finding them will likely just take more work than answering the doorbell.

The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA) has several recommendations for hiring contractors:

· Get references from friends, neighbors or co-workers.

· Check to see if the business has the proper license. SCDCA's Background a Business page can help consumers find the agency that may license various industries: https://consumer.sc.gov/background-business

· Ask to see the vendor's business license with the county and/or city.

· Get at least two other bids from contractors.

· Make sure all details are in a written contract and you get a completed copy.

· Do not pay in-full before the work is finished.

· Do an online search. Add the word "complaint" or "scam" after the business name in a search engine and see what issues others may have with the business.

· Trust your gut. If you have any doubts about hiring someone or entering into a contract, take your business elsewhere.

SCDCA's complaint database shows how many complaints were filed against a business and how the complaints were handled.

If the business is regulated by another state or federal agency, check with that agency for complaints, SCDCA recommends.

Other tips for hiring an ethical, qualified company:

· Be wary of companies from out of your area drumming up business following a disaster.

· Be wary of unusually low starting bids.

· If you can, learn a little about roofing before talking things over with a contractor.

· Read the fine print of anything someone wants you to sign nothing.

· Sign nothing under pressure.

· Pay attention to whether the company stays in communication with you and willingly answers questions.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.