Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Whether you’re remodeling your home, building a new one or just need a replacement water heater, you’re likely going to need a contractor.  Whether it’s a long-term home improvement project or an in-and-out emergency repair, you should give some serious thought to who you hire.

Contractors ranked No. 6 last year among all the issues that consumers complain about to the Attorney General’s Office. Many disputes could be avoided if consumers had done their homework before they wrote the check. That means making sure the person you hire has the right skills, since quality of work can vary. And that the contractor is legally registered to work in Washington.

News reports like these from KINGKOMO and KIRO are full of stories of remorseful consumers who wish they had done better research before they handed over their money. Here’s what you need to know when hiring a contractor:

  1. Seek referrals. Start with friends or neighbors. Home improvement stores and trade associations including the Master Builders Association can also be good resources. All contractors who do construction work in Washington must be registered with the state Department of Labor and Industries, post a bond and carry general liability insurance coverage. Check the L&I Web site or call 1-800-647-0982.
  2. Interview at least three qualified contractors and ask for references.
  3. Solicit written bids that detail the scope of the work, the types of materials that will be used, and the total cost of the project.
  4. Sign a contract. that covers the work to be performed, total price including taxes and fees, materials to be used, start and completion dates, warranties, payment schedules, sign-off procedures, and cleanup. It should also explain how changes to the work will be handled. If your residential project costs at least $1,000, the contractor must give you a written disclosure statement that explains your rights and responsibilities.
  5. Ask for a lien release. If a contractor fails to pay a subcontractor, worker or supplier, you could be sued and have a lien placed on your property to satisfy the unpaid bill. Protect yourself by asking the project contractor for a lien release for all subcontractors and suppliers.
  6. Agree on a payment schedule. Limit the initial down payment to 10-20 percent so that you can hold back the final amount based on performance. Don’t pay all make the final payment until you are fully satisfied with the finished product and know that subcontractor or suppliers have been paid.

Monday's Tip: Choosing a wireless phone plan
Tuesday's Tip: Debt collectors -- legit and bogus -- and your rights
Wednesday's Tip: Shopping online
Thursday's Tips: Five auto sales scams to avoid and Get a fair deal on your next car

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