Website that claims to pre-screen contractors may leave customers with false sense of security

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DENVER -- A website that claims to check out contractors for you is at the center of a FOX31 Denver investigation.

HomeAdvisor’s website claims to “prescreen” contractors, but Investigative reporter Heidi Hemmat uncovered major gaps in the company’s screening process that could give consumers a false sense of security.

HomeAdvisor claims to do the work for you by making sure the service providers on their website have passed background checks, are licensed and have good reviews. But, dozens of consumers claim HomeAdvisor has cost them thousands of dollars.

Nate Wright is a highly rated painter on HomeAdvisor’s website, even though he’s accused of taking a large deposit from one of his customers and disappearing. Find resources about how to find licensed contractors below.

Hemmat asked Wright, “Did you take her $1,300 for work that you never did?” Wright said, “No. I did it all.” Wright told us he’s done nothing wrong. His alleged victim does not want to be identified. She says, “My home is an eye sore. And he left me with a mess.”

The Denver metro area woman said Wright required $1,300 of the $1,800 job in cash up front.

The woman claims he started painting her home and never finished. She said, “I feel like I was duped. I’m upset. It’s stressful.”

The alleged victim said she thought she had hired a painter she could trust because she found Wright and his company “Wright Painting” on HomeAdvisor’s website. The site, HomeAdvisor.com, claims to “screen and approve” all of the service providers on their site by requiring that they pass criminal and financial background checks. HomeAdvisor says it also verified “professional licenses” and customer “reviews…”

The woman filed a formal complaint sending HomeAdvisor pictures, Wright’s three-line handwritten “contract” and copies of the cash advance she used to pay him.

The HomeAdvisor complaint department suggested she pay Wright the rest of the contract. She said, “They pressed me and pressed me to pay the last $500 when nothing had been done on my house.”

The woman claims she then tried to post a negative review on Wright Painting’s page.  HomeAdvisor told her she couldn’t use the word scam, when she wanted to write “I have been scammed! I trusted you Nate, how could you do this to me?”

More than a month later, an edited version of her review appeared. Wright Painting still has a 4-star rating on the HomeAdvisor website.

HEIDI HEMMATHomeAdvisor’s headquarters is located in Golden, but their corporate spokesperson declined our request for an interview.

Brooke Gabbert sent this statement that said in part: "We use the best tools available at the local, state and national levels to screen the owners or principals of a business prior to allowing them to join the HomeAdvisor network. Additionally, we work hard to manage disputes and misunderstandings between homeowners and service providers.”

In regard to the complaint against Wright, Gabbert said, “The only documentation (the alleged victim) was able to provide was a handwritten receipt. There was no contract produced. Therefore, we did not have conclusive evidence to pursue this any further…”

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) lists more than 600 complaints against HomeAdvisor. In the last 12 months, consumers have filed 208 complaints and 32 are unresolved.

Many complaints say the company failed to properly screen providers.

Kim Barkoviak is another alleged victim. She hired what she thought was a “screened and approved” contractor from the HomeAdvisor website.

HomeAdvisor referred Steve Sanet, an unlicensed contractor with a criminal record. Barkoviak said, “I was furious.” Sanet was charged in Pinellas County, Florida in 2012 with four counts of unlicensed contracting, a misdemeanor crime in Florida.

Barkoviak hired and paid Sanet who allegedly took $88,000 and never completed the work. Sanet claims he is innocent. The case is pending in court.

Barkoviak said, “I was in complete shock. The first thing I thought was where did you find this guy?”

She also complained. “I honestly thought once I told them about his record that they would re-screen him and take him off, but they never did.” Barkoviak said they refused to post her negative review for weeks.

She said a rewritten version appeared only after she complained to the BBB. Despite Sanet’s criminal charges and Barkoviak’s negative review, Direct Cabinets and Countertops still has a three-and-a-half star rating.

FOX31 Denver searched the website’s list of heating contractors and found more than half were not licensed in Denver County.

TJ Christensen, a licensed contractor said, “They are almost certain to get someone who is unqualified to do the work. Christensen claims HomeAdvisor gives consumers a false sense of security.

He said, “When you think you’ve found a place online that has pre-screened the contractor that’s coming to your home, are you really going to take the time to find where you have to go in your municipality to verify a contractor’s license? Every consumer should be doing that, but when you think you’ve found a trusted source, why would you?”

The disclaimer section of the HomeAdvisor website says, “HomeAdvisor does not confirm the accuracy of licensing … or that the license is … active … in good standing or is appropriate for the task for which you are seeking a service professional…”  The website recommends that you confirm all licensing requirements before hiring someone.

Barkoviak said, “I don’t think anyone should trust HomeAdvisor’s website.”

Barkoviak told us she wishes she would have done her own research instead of relying on a website.

HomeAdvisor said our story has prompted them to review their policies and training to make sure they do a better job.

Contractors are not licensed by the state in Colorado. Each county has its own license or registration process for contractors and some counties post license information online.

Resources to help you find a licensed contractor

Division of Registrations Colorado State Electrical & Plumbing Board
State electrical and plumbing contractors must be licensed by the State of Colorado prior to applying for a City and County of Denver license. Contact the State Board of Registrations online or call 303-894-7800.

County License Check
Denver County -This search provides a listing of companies that currently have obtained a Contractor's License from the City and County of Denver. Please check the expiration date and status to make sure that their license is still active. You may search for records by company name; you may either enter a partial or full company name. If the license is listed under a personal name, enter the last name first.

Jefferson County - Unincorporated Jefferson County requires a license as of January 2014. Jefferson County is in the process of adding a current list of licensed contractors on their website. For more information on hiring a contractor in Jefferson County use the following two online links:

Weld County – Residents can search for contactors’ licenses and other records through the online citizen access page.

Douglas County - General contractors, roofing and mechanical contractors must be licensed with Douglas County. Residents can search by company name.

Adams County - All contractors and sub-contractors must be registered with Adams County. To register, contractors must provide a copy of a current license from a Colorado municipality or an International Code Council Contractor's license. Here’s an online link to check out the requirements for contractors’ to register.

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