4 key websites to review before you hire a contractor, for anything

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Many of the disputes that arise over contractor work involve poor communication on the part of either or both parties. But in a lot of cases, people are in too big of a hurry when they hire contractors, so they miss the red flag that could have warned them of trouble.

Whether you have an insurance referral for a repair claim or you're looking on your own for remodeling or home maintenance, always go the state Department of Labor and Industries website and do some checking.

Click on "verify a contractor" in the right column. Then, click the "Homeowners" tab. This is where you make sure contractors and subcontractors at least have the required license and certification. Make sure a contractor you've used before is still in good standing.

The LNI site also has a page titled Protect My Home with critical tips for hiring smart: Verify the contractor's state registration. Always get at least 3 written bids. Don't pay in full until the job gets done.

Many, if not most local contractors follow the rules and do a good job but the bad apples generate common complaints, especially in emergency situations such as storm damage, or during the busy summer home improvement months.

Common contractor complaints include no registration, poor workmanship, code violations, property damage and failure to show up or respond.

The state Attorney General's website helps you head off home improvement scams. Ditto for the Federal Trade Commission website. And finally, check the Better Business Bureau site for more on how to avoid getting burned.

And remember these red flags: Demanding full payment up front, working for cash only, no state registration and unsolicited offers from people who go door to door claiming they're working in the neighborhood, and have extra materials.

Always check those four websites and follow the tips before you hire a contractor and you'll greatly increase your odds of getting the job done right.

And remember, always get everything in writing, and never sign anything before you read the front and back of every page.

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