Background Checks Not As Comprehensive As Customers Are Led to Believe

By Michael Klazema on 7/31/2015
Thinking about renovating your home and hiring a contractor to handle the work? You should use caution when hiring contractors through, according to a recent report from KVUE News. KVUE, an ABC affiliate based in Austin, Texas, recently launched an investigation into the website, which presents itself as a place to "Find a trusted home improvement pro." What KVUE investigators discovered were a number of loopholes or shortcomings in the company's background check policies, as well as customers who felt misled after hiring contractors who hadn't been properly background checked.

Right on the homepage of their website, boast about their background checks, writing, "With more than two million verified pro reviews and one of the industry's most comprehensive screening processes, HomeAdvisor gives you the peace of mind that comes from knowing you hired a pro you can trust." Based on KVUE's report, though, HomeAdvisor may not be digging quite as deep into their contractors' backgrounds as they should be.

The KVUE report revolved mostly around a single contractor in the Austin area. A few years ago, a woman in Austin hired the contractor in question to build her home. She ended up with a house "riddled with problems," such as visibly shoddy paint jobs and blatantly unfinished bathrooms. Another client claimed that the same contractor gave her a 50-year-old propane tank after promising a new one.

A true "comprehensive" background check of this particular contractor would have spotted troubling red flags that likely would have steered HomeAdvisor customers from securing his services. Since 2002, he's been sued 17 times in civil court, usually for claims from customers that he didn't complete work on their homes or from subcontractors who said he didn't pay them as promised. He was also cited by Hays County, Texas after some of his building materials sparked a wildfire in 2006.

HomeAdvisor didn't know about their contractor's legal troubles because their civil background checks don't dig deep. According to KVUE, the site only checks for civil lawsuits and judgments dating back a year from when a contractor signs up to be a part of the service's network. Once the background check has been done, that's it: HomeAdvisor never does repeat background checks on its contractors.

KVUE did note that the site's background check policy for criminal history screenings is a bit more in depth, going back three years prior to the date of application, instead of just one. Still, it's unclear why the background checks for civil judgments are only going back a year, especially since contractors with a history of doing poor work are more likely to have been taken to civil court by a customer than to have been found guilty of a crime.

So what are the options for homeowners who want to use HomeAdvisor to find a contractor? Such individuals might consider digging a little deeper themselves and at least checking the local court records for the contractor if they operate in the same county as the homeowner.


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