No News is Bad News
Today’s Star Tribune features a homeowner’s nightmare: a plumber hired to fix a major leak collected payment, started the work — then disappeared, leaving the homeowner marooned in a non-functioning Kitchen turned inside-out (“Learning the Hard Way”).
Apparently, the homeowner never did a background check on the contractor.
Which begs the question, would she have found something if she had?
The short answer: yes, if she was sophisticated and knew where to look. Otherwise, not.
To answer the question myself, I ran a Google search on the contractor’s name and company — Rodd Hansen, Advanced Plumbing Services.
Nothing (except, of course, today’s Star Tribune article).
Next, I ran a search on on the contractor’s name and company on Angie’s List, an increasingly popular referral service.
Results? Again, nothing.
A Bulls Eye — After Lots of Digging
Finally, I ran a search on the State of Minnesota’s Department of Labor and Industry Web site.
After some digging around, I got a bulls eye: a 2008 enforcement action against the company for almost $10,000.
Unfortunately, the foregoing hit popped up only after rummaging around on the site for about 15 minutes. Afterwards, I tried to re-create my steps . . . . . and couldn’t.
The moral of the story?
You can’t count on bad actors leaving a trail. They can change surnames, change business names, move from state to state, etc.
It’s also the case that burned customers are seldom eager to publicize the fact that they’ve been ripped off. Afterwards, it’s often easier to just move on than to take the time to protect others (the subject of the Star Trib article should be lauded for doing just that).
Finally, as a former attorney, I can attest to the fact that even when contractors are successfully sued, the settlement terms frequently include confidentiality agreements designed to protect the contractor’s reputation (or what’s left of it).
No Trail = Red Flag
Instead, it’s far likelier that a good contractor will leave a positive trail from previous, satisfied customers, in the form of glowing personal references, complimentary reviews on services like Angie’s List, etc.
So, when it comes to choosing a contractor, it’s safe to say that no news is definitely bad news.
P.S.: what about checking the plumber’s Minnesota license? A good idea, to be sure. However, in this case, Hansen didn’t have one — and had a creative alibi for why he didn’t: he told the client that MN and South Dakota had reciprocity (true), and that he was licensed in South Dakota (false).
How many people would have dug further to find that out?