When Carrie Paulik wanted to landscape her front yard, she went online to find a landscaper. She was drawn to Thumback, the website that boasts: “We bring you the right pros for every project.”
“I thought, ‘Oh, let me try Thumbtack,’” Paulik said.
Paulik found a landscaper and paid him nearly $8,000, but he bolted before the job was done.
“I just feel like he stole from me,” Paulik said. “He ripped me off.”
Paulik hired a second landscaper through Thumbtack to finish the job. He did but for another $9,000.
“It’s been very painful,” Paulik said. “I’m glad it’s done.”
Both landscapers Paulik hired through Thumbtack were unlicensed, even though state law requires a license. The first landscaper used to be licensed, but the state revoked it ten years ago for the same behavior: abandoning a job after collecting most of the money. Yet, Thumbtack allowed him to solicit business.
“These services are not giving you pros,” Paulik said. “Anybody can list there, put their name up, hang a shingle, and there you go.”
After Paulik complained to Thumbtack, it removed the first landscaper she hired from its site.
Jeannine Regalia hired a contractor through Thumbtack to replace her garage door. After paying half the price upfront — $2,800 — that contractor bolted, too. The state confirmed he’s also unlicensed.
"He should have been vetted to not be somebody who just scams people, I would hope,” Regalia said. “Otherwise, who are you letting on your site? This could happen to everyone.”
It could. Because this service that says “We bring you the right pros” doesn’t check the credentials of contractors.
We wondered how many unlicensed contractors are soliciting work on Thumbtack. So we posted 13 jobs ranging from landscaping to garage doors to cabinet and tile work. We got 37 bids. Eighteen of them were from unlicensed contractors, and four others didn’t carry the proper license for the job. Nearly 60 percent of the people bidding on our jobs weren’t legally allowed to do them.
“Unfortunately, what you found by going online is what we’re finding all too often,” Rick Lopes with the Contractors State License Board said.
Lopes warns that sites like Thumbtack may be a breeding ground for them. In fact, the state’s undercover sting operations are set up using sites like Thumbtack.
“We know that they’re getting jobs because of these websites,” Lopes said. “So we’re out there looking for them, too, to try and put them out of business.”
Lopes says the board has tried to work with Thumbtack to help consumers check a contractor’s license at the same time they’re bidding on a job. He says Thumbtack could simply add a link to the state’s license look-up. But so far, that hasn’t happened.
“We have an open invitation,” Lopes said. “We’d be more than happy to sit down with them and show them how they can easily put the license check right over to us.”
We wanted to talk to Thumbtack about the unlicensed contractors on its site as well as Paulik’s and Regalia’s complaints, but the company’s CEO and attorney did not respond to our emails. Instead, its press team provided a blanket statement, saying when professionals sign up on Thumbtack, they “agree to abide by the law, including licensing laws.”
But our research shows that’s not happening. Paulik and Regalia both challenge Thumbtack to make its site less risky for consumers. But until it does, users must vet the “right pros” themselves.
“Really take your time to get the license number, check the license number,” said Paulik.
Thumbtack later told us it does verify licenses of some contractors, but didn’t specify how or why only some are selected. That’s all the more reason to go directly to the state’s website to check a license. That link can be found here.
Paulik and Regalia both made a very common mistake. They gave the contractor way too much money upfront. State law says contractors can only collect upfront $1,000 or 10 percent of the cost of the job, whichever is less. And payments after that need to be prorated. You are only required to pay for work after it’s completed.