Avoid 'contractor roulette' as home improvement season heats up

Thousands of local people are unknowingly about to enter a game of contractor roulette. Depending on who you call for that home improvement or repair project, you'll either get a great job for a fair price, or you'll be over charged for shoddy work that has to be re-done.

Whether you're replacing your roof, painting your home, repairing your plumbing or doing a major remodel, you need to remember that anyone can order business cards and create a website. Before you sign a contract, get referrals from people you know and trust, meet the contractor in person and verify their credentials.

Start with the State Department of Licensing website and make sure they have a current business license. Then, check the Secretary of State's website to compare the mailing address and find out who owns and runs the business. Next, head to the State Department of Labor and Industries website and make sure the contractor is insured and bonded. This is also where you check the violations and claims against the contractor's bond.

Before you make a decision, always get at least two bids and take time to carefully review the details. No verbal agreements; get everything in writing. Never hire a contractor based on advertising alone. Never hire a door-to-door solicitor on the spot. Never sign a generic contract; get specifics. And never, ever pay all the money up front.

If a contractor pressures you to pay up front, send them packing. If you can't find evidence of license or registration, cross them off the list and reported them to the state Department of Licensing. Also keep in mind that just a license alone does not mean a business is reputable. That's why it's critical to check for complaints. Do an online search for reviews and complaints. Consider subscriber-based consumer review services such as Angie's List and Consumer's Checkbook, which do not accept money from contractors as a condition of being rated or reviewed.

And be especially careful if you need to hire a mover. Remember, rogue movers give low-ball quotes, then hijack your property and hold it hostage for thousands of dollars. Before you hire a mover- check with the State Utilities and Transportation Commission website so you'll know your rights and how to avoid moving scams.

As I always say- before you commit your money, take the time and do your homework. There's a wealth of reliable information online that can help you avoid contractor nightmares and serious financial mistakes. Investigate before you invest-otherwise you really are playing contractor roulette- and once you get burned, the odds are against you getting your money back.