What you Should know Before Hiring a Contractor

Do's and Don'ts for California Consumers
-- taken from a free brochure printed by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) --
  1. The steps you must NEVER skip!
  2. Financial Perspectives
  3. General Advice
  4. Registering a complaint against a contractor
The Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) can tell if your contractor is licensed, in good standing and in the proper classification to fit your needs. Before you hire a contractor or sign a contract for home repair, call the Contractors State Licensing Board toll free at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752). You can do more to protect yourself before hiring a contractor.

The steps you must NEVER skip!

  • Contact the Contractors State License Board with the name, license number and business address for each of the bidding contractors. TheCSLB can be contacted toll free at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752) or at www.cslb.ca.gov. They can provide information about a contractor's license status. In addition you can write to CSLB, P.O. Box 26000, Sacramento, CA 95826.
  • Verify the contractor's license:
    The Contractors State License Board can tell you over the phone if a particular individual is legally licensed to do work in California. The board, which also handles complaints and can provide consumer information, can be reached at 800 321-2752 or you can look up your contractor on their web site at http://www.cslb.ca.gov/consumers/default.asp Do not be mislead by a business card or number on a contract and take that as proof that a contractor is licensed. Always call before you sign anything. In addition to the license, also verify the business address and telephone number of anyone you are considering employing.
  • Reference check: Call the contractor's previous customers and find out if the person you are thinking of hiring kept to a schedule and contract. Did they stay within budget? Did they listen and seem concerned about resolving problems and make any necessary corrections.
  • What You Should Know Before You Hire a Contractor -- a publication to help you make informed decisions when dealing with contractors. Order by calling the number above or contact them on the Internet at http://www.cslb.ca.gov.

Financial Perspectives

  • Don't pay cash!!!
  • Don't let the payments get ahead of the work that has been completed
  • Do require a written contract and Don't sign it until you Fully understand the terms. Include a payment schedule in your written contract.
  • Do know how much to give as a deposit? Under state law, when undertaking a home improvement or repair job, contractors cannot ask for a deposit of more than 10% of the total cost of the job or $1000, whichever is less except if the contractor has a bond or approved bond equivalent that ensures completion of your project. In that case, they can ask for more of a deposit. Remember though, it is your money. You can say no!
  • Insurance: Make sure the contractor is properly insured against claims for worker injury or damage. Ask to see a copy of the certificate of insurance or the name of the contractor's carrier and agency.
  • Bonding: Check the status of the contractor's bonding capability. All licensed contractors are required to post a $5,000 cash deposit with the state as a minimum but there are other types of bonds.

General Advice

  • Get your contract in writing and don't sign anything until you understand the terms.
  • Ask a friend or relative to review the contract before you sign it.
  • Include in your contract: a specific description of work to be done, materials to be used, total cost of the project, and start and completion dates.
  • Don't be a victim. Do be aware that consumers have been targeted by scam artists posing as contractors.
  • Deal only with licensed contractors.
  • Don't rush into the repairs.
  • Don't hire the first contractor who comes along.
  • Do ask to see the contractor's "pocket license" or Home Improvement Sales registration. All contractors are issued pocket licenses that show the type of trade for which they are licensed and the expiration date of the license.
  • Ask to see some additional form of identification so you know who you are dealing with.
  • Door-to-Door Solicitations. A solicitor offers to do roofing, painting or paving work at a reduced price. Once payment is made, little or no work is done and the project is abandoned.
  • High Pressure Sales. An unscrupulous contractor pushes for an immediate decision about work, which makes it impossible for the homeowner to get competitive bids, check licenses or review references.
  • Scare Tactics. A deceitful contractor offers to perform a free inspection, then claims that faulty wiring, bad plumbing, or a leaky roof put the homeowner in peril. The alarmed homeowner agrees to unnecessary and over-priced work.
  • Demand for Cash. A contractor demands cash payments, sometimes going so far as to drive the victim to the bank to withdraw funds. With money in hand, the unscrupulous operator takes the money and runs.
  • Verbal Agreements. A contractor states that a written contract is unnecessary--promising to deliver on the verbal agreement. The shady operator takes advantage of the situation to perform shoddy work--or none at all.

Registering a Complaint

If you have a complaint against a contractor, call the board at 1 800-321-CSLB (2752) and ask for a copy of "A Consumer Guide to Filing Construction Complaints".
  • Do not be rushed into hiring anyone: Get at least three written bids using identical plans and specifications so you can compare prices. And remember, if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Know your rights: The law requires a contractor to give you written notice of your right to cancel a contract within three days after signing it, provided that the contract was not solicited at the contractor's own business.
  • Get it in writing: Know exactly what the work will be and how much it is expected to Cost, then establish a payment and work schedule.
  • Avoid liens on your home: Ensure that all materials suppliers have or are being paid and obtain releases to protect yourself from vendors collecting on money owed by the contractor.
  • Complaint procedure: If you have problems of any kind with a contractor you may contact the State Contractors License Board to learn more about their complaint procedure. And, if you suspect criminal activity, you should also report it to your local police department or the Marin County District Attorney's Consumer Protection Division at 499-6450.
  • Proof of Insurance: Always ask for proof of insurance for both Workman's Compensation and General Liability. Ask for a certificate naming you, the homeowner, for full protection.
  • Quality is an Investment: Grades of lumber vary dramatically. Companies cut prices by compromising materials. Lower grade materials have a much shorter lifespan than quality materials, thus they will deteriorate quicker. Replacement will be necessary much sooner, therefore, it will actually cost more than your original investment in quality.