MADISON, Wis. -

Along with the hordes of people cleaning up the branches out of their own backyards, Doug Zimmerman is among the many walking around Friar Lane.

One of the six tornadoes across the state Monday night into Tuesday morning touched down and damaged several houses in that west side neighborhood. Zimmerman is with American Family Insurance, and he is the adjustor for eight of those households.

“They've got enough to worry about as far as just losing their homes or losing their contents,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman goes through each of the homes looking for cracks in the dry wall, broken and missing windows, or anything else hinting at the building’s structural integrity. He believes all of the houses on Friar Lane can and will be rebuilt.

“If it's cost-effective to repair, we're definitely going to go that approach,” Zimmerman said.

Now crews help Zimmerman pack up anything that’s salvageable in each of the homes to prevent further damage.

“That is a very rewarding part of the job,” Zimmerman said. “To make them feel at ease and get back to normal.”

This kind of situation can make homeowners vulnerable, and J.P. Wieske with the State Office of the Commissioner of Insurance said anyone with damage needs to take their time and ask questions.

“Obviously this is going to be heartbreaking, you're not going to be thinking rationally,” Wieske said. "But take a minute, take a breath, and be as calm as you can.”

Wieske suggested making a list of questions for an adjustor before that person even assesses your house. Those with damage should also have a clear understanding of their rights under their policy.

Wieske said anyone looking to file a claim with their insurance provider should not feel rushed into the process. He said an adjustor or representative from the insurance company does not need to be present for a customer to sign a contract. He added if a person is offering special discounts, asking for money upfront, or assuring that they will handle a claim on your behalf, they may not be with a reputable company.

“Don't sign any contracts in these first couple of days. I know people are going to get antsy and they're going to get hyper because it's heartbreaking. You want to get up and running as quickly as possible,” Wieske said. “Take your time. I think that's the most important thing. Take your time.”

Wieske said on top of taking your time with the process, you should be patient with adjustors and contractors. He said with the high volume of people needing help and a limited number of those who can rebuild, the wait for work may be longer than people would like.

Zimmerman expects repairs to take months.

“It's going to take some time, but we set that expectation up front that it's not going to be done in a week. It's going to be three to six months,” Zimmerman said.

As of Wednesday, the Madison-area Better Business Bureau and the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection had not received any reports of illegitimate contractors or insurance adjustors going door-to-door to damaged homes.

DATCP offered the following tips to homeowners with storm damage, as a precaution for any scam:

  • Be wary of any contractor who knocks at your door. Call the police or sheriff's department to check them out.
  • Hire a contractor based on referrals. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations and ask contractors for references.
  • Try to get a local contractor. Ask contractors if they are subcontracting your job. Be careful if local contractors are using outside subcontractors.
  • Get lien waivers from anyone you pay for home repairs. Lien waivers protect you if the person collecting the money does not pay the suppliers or workers.
  • Get a written contract with a start and completion date and warranty information. Also, make certain that the contract states exactly what work is to be done and what materials are to be used. Never rely on a verbal commitment.
  • Contractors that register with the state are issued a card. Make sure that any contractor you are considering hiring shows you their state registration card.
  • Have someone watch the work being done. Check with your local building inspector to see if the work requires a permit. Make sure an inspector visits the job site before you make a final payment.
  • Request a copy of the contractor's certificate of liability insurance.

DATCP also said under Wisconsin’s storm chaser law, contractors can’t promise to pay any of a property insurance deductible. They also cannot negotiate with an insurance company on behalf of a homeowner, enter a home without handing the customer a questionnaire about the work and insurance claims, or do work without giving the homeowner written notice of their right to cancel within three business days of being notified by their insurance about coverage.