TUMWATER — Like annoying allergies, paving scams are springing up in Washington state with the arrival of warm weather. Unfortunately, these rip-offs are nothing to sneeze at, and can cost homeowners in a big way.
The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is issuing a warning to beware of contractors showing up at your door, unsolicited, offering to pave your driveway. These fast-talkers typically claim to have leftover asphalt from a nearby job. Then they offer a one-time deal that’s too good to pass up.
Yet after the project’s done, these shady contractors jack up the price and demand payment for what’s often shoddy work with substandard materials.
L&I has already received at least a half-dozen reports this year about questionable out-of-state paving contractors in King, Mason, Lewis, and Pacific counties. Homeowners have been overcharged, and at least one swindled into spending thousands of dollars on a spur-of-the-moment project.
To help you avoid getting scammed, L&I is offering tips to hire contractors at ProtectMyHome.net.
Questionable paving contractor
L&I received five reports this month about a contractor in a shiny pickup offering to pave driveways in rural neighborhoods in Mason, Lewis and Pacific counties.
In one case, an elderly couple west of Centralia told L&I they didn’t remember exactly agreeing to hire a contractor after he knocked on their door, but he started working on their driveway.
After giving the husband and wife separate verbal estimates, the contractor charged them an even higher price − $16,000 − when the job was done with a cheaper, lower grade material than asphalt.
When he learned that the couple had called an L&I inspector who was on his way to their house, the Wisconsin-based contractor rushed off without payment.
Paving half a driveway
In another case in late February, a Woodinville homeowner reluctantly paid $8,500 to a contractor who knocked on his door.
The contractor offered to pave part of the resident’s driveway with leftover asphalt, and promised to tell him the price and extent of the project before he started. Yet without informing the homeowner, the contractor’s crew paved one lane of the entire driveway.
Not wanting to have just one side paved, the homeowner agreed to pay for the other half, as well.
L&I cited the contractor, who had a Pennsylvania address, with unregistered contracting. The homeowner was later able to recoup some of his money from his credit card company. Many paving scam victims are not so lucky.
Get tips on how to hire a contractor at ProtectMyHome.net
“Paving scams are a problem we see here and around the country every spring and summer,” said Chris Bowe, assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards division.
“It’s so important for consumers to do their homework before hiring someone to work on their home,” Bowe added. “We want everyone to know about this so we can prevent scam artists from taking your hard-earned money.”
At a minimum, homeowners should verify that contractors are registered with L&I. The department confirms that contractors hold a business license, liability insurance, and a bond, which provides some financial recourse in case of problems.
In addition, consumers should do a few things to protect themselves financially. For instance, getting written bids from at least three contractors allows you to compare their knowledge and credentials.
Along with the price, bids should spell out in detail what work you’re paying for and what materials the contractor will use. The lowest price often isn’t the best deal in the long run.
Hiring a contractor? Hire smart!
- Verify contractors are registered.
- Get three written bids.
- Don’t pay in full until the job is done to your satisfaction.
- Avoid contractors offering a special price for just one day.
- Beware of contractors who solicit business at your doorstep, instead of you contacting them.
- Get more tips and check contractor registration at ProtectMyHome.net.