The “freak storm” on the Eastern seaboard
The American Homeowners Foundation (AHF), has outlined the steps that the thousands of homeowners “whose homes were damaged by the freak June 29 storm that struck the eastern U.S.” should take.
The AHF advises homeowners to carefully document all damage with photographs in order to prove damages to insurance adjusters and the IRS if eligible for tax deductions as a result of uninsured losses. They also advise homeowners to contact their homeowners insurance company immediately to understand what is and is not covered, noting that in some cases, for example, damage from a falling tree is typically covered, but the removal of a tree in your yard without damaging a home may not be covered.
Flood coverage is often misunderstood, says the AHF. “Most standard flood insurance only covers damage caused by rising waters from a river, creek, lake or pond. It doesn’t cover such things as water backups caused by overflowing drain pipes, or when the drain in a basement stairwell gets clogged with debris, causing water to fill the stairwell and come in under the basement door.”
“That once happened to me during a big storm,” said AHF President Bruce Hahn. “After I learned that the extensive damage to our finished basement was not covered by our insurance policy, I reconsidered how much I could afford to spend out of my own pocket to repair the damage.” Homeowners shouldn’t commit to expensive repairs until they learn what is covered and what isn’t, and the terms of the coverage of things that are.
Finding a qualified contractor
Finding a qualified contractor after a major event like the recent storms is another challenge, as rates tend to go up with demand, and con men abound. Homeowners can use technologies like HouseFix to check contractors’ reputations, and even avoid sticker shock by getting price ranges through Redbeacon which also allows users to take a photo of damage and get bids over their device from local contractors.
AHF advises that contractor credentials should be checked carefully, particularly their license status, and whether or not they are insured for worker’s compensation, property, and personal liability, adding that it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a copy of their insurance certificate and a list of references on similar jobs. The nonprofit asserts that belonging to trade organizations like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, or the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers Council “is a sign of commitment to their trade and to professionalism.”
Homeowners should get a comprehensive bid, detailing as many of the specifications as possible, the AHF notes, and that homeowners should try to get two or three bids where possible. Use tools like Redbeacon mentioned previously, or MinuteBid (not a free service, completely designed for landlords, but could easily be used by consumers) to manage the bidding process, lest you be married to a fax machine.
“One of the most important suggestions is to use a comprehensive written contract,” the AHF advises. “It will greatly reduce the likelihood of disputes with your contractor. Make sure the contract covers the description of the project, timetable, payment schedule, etc., and has general provisions defining the responsibility of the contractor and the subcontractors, defects and correction, change order procedures, warranties, right to termination, and alternative dispute settlement mechanisms (since many of the costs of lawsuits are for legal fees, homeowners and contractors will almost always be better off with mediation, conciliation, and/or binding arbitration clauses should a disagreement arise). Some contractors use their own standard contract forms, but read the provisions carefully before signing them. If you feel some of the provisions in their contract are unreasonable, ask them to make reasonable modifications.”
Never hire a contractor by signing a brief proposal or worse yet, on a handshake, the nonprofit notes. You can also hire an attorney to draw up a contract that includes the aforementioned provisions to protect you. Another alternative is to use the American Homeowners Foundation’s standard six page remodeling and repair contract, which contains these protections and fill in the blank areas for the specifics of your job.
Do your homework, protect yourself, and document everything along the way, and this terrible storm damage situation will go as smoothly as possible and be over before you know it.
Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?
(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?
The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.
While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.
When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).
In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.
However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.
Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.
RIP office culture: How work from home is destroying the economy
(BUSINESS NEWS) It’s not just your empty office left behind: Work from home is drastically changing cities’ economies in more ways than you think.
It’s been almost six months since the U.S. went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and the CDC’s subsequent safety guidelines were issued – it’s safe to say that it is not business as usual. Everyone from restaurant waitstaff to start-up executives have been affected by the shift to work-from-home. Even as restrictions slowly begin to lift, it seems as though the office workspace – regarded as the vital venue for the U.S. economy – will never truly be the same.
Though economists have been focusing largely on small businesses and start-ups, we are only just beginning to understand the impact that not going back into the white-collar office will have on the economy.
The industries that support white-collar office culture in major cities have become increasingly emaciated. The coffee shops, food trucks, and food delivery companies that catered to the white-collar workforce before, during, and after their workday, are no longer in high demand (Starbucks reported a loss of $2 billion this year, which they attribute to Zoomification). Airlines have also been affected as business travel typically accounts for 60%-70% of all air travel.
Also included are high-end hotels, which accommodate the traveling business class. Pharmacies, florists, and gyms located in business districts have become ghost towns. Office supplies companies, such as Xerox, have suffered. Workwear brands such as J. Crew and Brooks Brothers have filed for bankruptcy, as there is no longer a need to dress for the office.
In Manhattan – arguably the country’s most notorious white-collar business mecca – at least 1,200 restaurants have been permanently lost. It is also is predicted that the one-third of all small businesses will close.
Additionally, the borough is facing twice as many apartment vacancies as this time last year, due to the flight of workers no longer tied to midtown offices. Workers have realized their freedom to seek more affordable and spacious residence outside the city. As companies decentralize from cities and rent prices drop, it isn’t all bad news. There is promise that particular urban white-collar neighborhoods will start to become accessible to the working class once again.
Some companies, like Pinterest and REI, are reporting that their shift to work from home is in fact permanent. The long-term effects of deserted office buildings are yet to make themselves evident. What we do know is that the decline of the white-collar office will force us to reimagine the great American cities – with so much lost due to the coronavirus, what can now be gained?
2020 Black Friday shopping may break the mold
(BUSINESS NEWS) Home Depot states their new plan for deals and discounts over two months, in place of a 1-day Black Friday event.
Humans change and adapt – that’s just in our nature. Retail stores have struggled to maintain their sales goals for years as more and more people move to ordering online. Online prices still seem to be within customer expectations and often come with free shipping. Additionally, people that may have preferred to shop in an actual brick-and-mortar store have changed their shopping habits dramatically in 2020; it’s hard to social distance and be safe in crowded stores or in small aisles. Black Friday may be next to change.
Amazon and other big box store’s online ordering platforms have simplified getting what you need delivered right to your front door. According to Statista, “Amazon was responsible for 45% of US e-commerce spending in 2019 – a figure which is expected to rise to 47% in 2020.”
Retailers count on the holiday season, specifically Black Friday deals (the day after Thanksgiving), to bring in up to 20% of their annual revenue. It’s hard to just remove that option completely. But considering the times of social distancing, wearing masks in public, and especially avoiding large crowds, the tradition of Black Friday will need to look different this year.
It will also be interesting to see what supply chain disruptions from early 2020 will have the most effect this shopping season. We saw predictions in March that said the United States would see the biggest disruptions in about six months. Black Friday falls right on that timeline.
Home Depot has announced their plans to go ahead and give the deals over a two month span, starting in early November through December (both online and in stores with the possibility of adding some special deals around the actual Black Friday date) to help encourage a more steady stream of shoppers versus so many packing in on the same day.
The home improvement chain has actually seen a great sales year. This is likely due to people working from home and being interested in doing more home projects (and possibly having a bit more time to do them as well). As of May 2020, “The Home Depot®, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, today reported sales of $28.3 billion for the first quarter of fiscal 2020, a 7.1 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal 2019. Comparable sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 were positive 6.4 percent, and comparable sales in the U.S. were positive 7.5 percent.”
Home Depot, along with many other retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have confirmed that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, which may not be new for all of them but has always signaled the kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
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