Better Business Bureau and Washington State Labor and Industries are issuing an alert to consumers over a recent and steady stream of complaints against contractors. Homeowners wishing to remodel or improve houses complain to BBB that after paying thousands of dollars for home repairs the work is either shoddy or never completed.
“BBB generally sees an increase in home improvement inquiries and complaints during this time of year,” warns Robert W.G. Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. “Our biggest concern is when homeowners pay a lot of money upfront and get very little or nothing in return.”
To date in 2013, BBB and L & I have received thousands of complaints on contractors and home remodeling companies.
“Most contractors follow the rules,” says Liz Smith, Assistant Director for Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards at the Washington Department of Labor and Industries. “But illegal contractors are not registered, have no insurance and no bond. While L & I can cite the contractor for operating without registration, the victim is still out the money they’ve paid.”
Before building, BBB advises homeowners to first nail down a plan.
Lay out the project from start to finish. Be specific. Explain exactly what is desired and understand the contractor’s responsibilities—including zoning, architectural plans and supplies.
Research the credentials. Make sure businesses are bonded, licensed and insured; confirm business licensing and professional licensing through Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.
Check the references. Find out how long contractors have been in business and ask for portfolios of work samples. Talk to former clients about their experiences and if possible, visit past job sites.
Request in-person estimates. Obtain written estimates from at least three contractors and don’t always select the lowest bid. Insist that each estimate include the cost of materials and labor, and get a description of exactly what the contractor will do and how long the project will take.
Get a written contract. Request a full description of the project, complete with start and finish dates. Get a written list of warranties and guarantees on workmanship, total cost, payment schedule, business information and licensing. Never sign a blank or partially-filled agreement and always retain copies.
L & I recently launched the ProtectMyHome campaign, where consumers can easily check contractor registrations and find worksheets for screening potential contractors and guides on how to spot problems during projects. BBB and L & I also advise consumers to never entirely pre-pay for services. Visit the BBB Accredited Business Directory for a complete list of quality local contractors.