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May 22, 2009

Check with the state before it's too late on home-improvement projects

TUMWATER — Homeowners wanting to save money on home-improvement projects during the economic slowdown may be tempted to choose a contractor based only on price. But when the lowest price means working with an unregistered contractor, consumers risk having no recourse if things go bad, and some crooks take the money and run.

“The lowest price isn’t always a good deal,” said Pete Schmidt of the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). “If a job goes bad with an unregistered contractor, a homeowner is usually left high and dry because the contractor has no bonding or insurance.”

To protect consumers and counter construction-related fraud, a new statewide radio campaign reminds homeowners to do their research at HiringaContractor.Lni.wa.gov. The Legislature directed L&I to do a campaign warning consumers of the risks of using unregistered contractors.

Radio ads will air for two weeks beginning May 22, and another two weeks in mid-June, supplemented by print ads and Interstate 5 billboards.The campaign comes at a time of year when homeowners often start home-improvement projects. The ads support L&I’s ongoing outreach to homeowners, including information booths at home shows, newspaper articles and a comprehensive Web site.

“We tell people that they should check with the state before it’s too late,” said Schmidt, who runs L&I’s contractor compliance program. “We hear too many stories from homeowners who learned the hard way that they should have done better research before hiring a contractor.”

The Web site has step-by-step guidance for construction projects, including tips for avoiding scams. Links allow consumers to check whether contractors are registered and licensed and to report them if they are not. 

Checking out a contractor doesn’t guarantee a good one, but it’s one of several steps homeowners can take to protect against unscrupulous or unqualified contractors.

According to Carl Hammersburg, manager of L&I’s Fraud Prevention and Compliance Program, “Under-the-table contractors not only hurt consumers, they also undercut legitimate businesses who are following all the rules.”

The underground construction economy costs the state an estimated $112.5 million a year in unpaid taxes and workers’ compensation insurance.

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For media information: Barbara A. Davis, 360-902-4216

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