Q: What is a good way to find a reliable plumber? I have heard of, and unfortunately been the victim of, some scams and shady characters...

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Q: What is a good way to find a reliable plumber? I have heard of, and unfortunately been the victim of, some scams and shady characters in the past. Any great ideas?

A: Unfortunately, the plumbing — and, to a lesser extent, the electrical — industries have quite a number of “creative” entrepreneurs. Profiteers might be an even better word.

Several of these companies are close to the margins ethically, in my opinion. Questionable marketing techniques utilizing scare tactics, commissioned technicians pushing unnecessary repairs and inflated pricing schemes are used by the larger companies quite frequently.

In the not-too-distant past, if you were to call around to get three independent bids, as people are generally advised, you might have called three of the largest ads in the Yellow Pages if you weren’t familiar with the scam. Problem is, you would have gotten three different bids from three different companies, all owned by the same person(s). The same call center would retrieve your call from the myriad phone numbers. In other words, this company was bidding against itself.

I have known two plumbers who got out of the business completely, feeling they had been pushed by their employers’ required daily quotas to recommend debatable repairs that people couldn’t afford and/or didn’t truly need.

After the state attorney general got involved, this behavior subsided. But again I am hearing stories of $1,500 water-heater replacements, and the Yellow Pages ads are getting bigger every year. And that scares me.

Choosing a smaller company doesn’t always guarantee good service, quality work and a fair price, although personally I feel it is more likely, since the owner is more hands-on and ultimately feels personally responsible for the work and the customers’ satisfaction.

In its latest publication, Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit magazine free of advertising, highlights the area’s best and worst plumbers. Plumbers are rated via interviews with customers under several criteria:

• Doing work properly on the first try.

• Starting and completing work promptly.

• Letting you know the cost early.

• Advice on service options and costs.

• Overall performance.

• Percent of customers rating firm “adequate” or “superior.”

• Number of complaints on file at the attorney general’s office.

• Whether the firm is a member of the Better Business Bureau, and its record with the BBB.

• Minimum charge for a service call.

This guide also gives great advice on how to pick and work with plumbers, how to interpret bids and how to minimize cost. All of this is invaluable information. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The guide is available at www.checkbook.org or by calling 206-332-9696.

Darrell Hay is a local home inspector and manages rental properties. Send questions to dhay@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies.