Right on the homepage of their website, HomeAdvisor.com 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.
Homeownership is often described as the cornerstone of the American dream, but the reality of owning a home involves facing the constant need for maintenance. Most homeowners have limited tolerance for “do it yourself” work, from general upkeep to remodeling and large-scale renovations. Professional contractors ideally ensure a high standard of work and safe methods — but the cost is always an issue. Finding a valuable, experienced contractor is not always easy.
Websites such as HomeAdvisor aim to make it easier for homeowners to connect with the professionals they need to provide the services they want. Since these contractors will work inside homes and around properties, they must undergo a criminal background check before listing on the site. Otherwise, homeowners would have no way of knowing who they were about to invite through their front door.
While HomeAdvisor advertises that it carries out an extensive contractor background check, some homeowners have had startling and alarming experiences with contractors. Those contractors, it was later revealed, did have criminal convictions in their past.
According to a report, Chicago-area homeowners hired a man from HomeAdvisor to carry out some work on their property. While there, the contractor suffered a mental health episode and began breaking furniture and windows. After the incident, which caused more than $10,000 in damages to the home, the owners learned that the contractor had prior felony burglary convictions of which HomeAdvisor seemingly had no awareness.
Similarly, homeowners in Arizona and Nebraska reported that they, too, had interacted with contractors who had extensive felony criminal records going back decades. Those individuals performed substandard work, leaving homeowners to fund the necessary repairs and improvements.
HomeAdvisor claims the issue stems from the extent of its “lookback period” for background checks, which only reaches back to seven years. To some extent, this can be a limitation of background checks based on local law or state record maintenance requirements. The FCRA establishes a 7-year lookback period, which many states use as a baseline. Some states set a hard cut-off at seven years, while others may report convictions dating back farther with no time limit whatsoever.
The company said in a statement that it constantly refines its background check process and quickly responds to concerns reported to them by consumers. Unfortunately, that often means letting homeowners assume the risk and waiting to act until after the fact. Some of the old methods may still prove best for homeowners looking to hire a contractor — seeking word of mouth recommendations, verifying licenses, and perhaps even ordering your own contractor background check with their consent.
Leaving the vetting in the hands of third parties can make it easier to find someone to work on your home quickly. However, there are risks to consider in light of the experiences some HomeAdvisor users have had. It is always worth thinking carefully about those you’ll allow access to your home.