Illegal,Immoral, and Down-right Dirty: Contractors without licenses
Last year I told you to check on your contractor before you hired him or her. In the wake of a new customers’ expensive lesson I want to remind you again. My new customer is out over $4,000 and has now found erroneous charges against her credit card. She is in a bad place.
She used an unlicensed contractor and he has her in a head lock. She can file complaints but the process is slow and often recovery is minimal. I recently attended a House of Delegates session where consumers and contractors are trying to have better laws put into place against unscrupulous contractors but this will take time. So, in the meantime, please, read this again and pay attention. Do not learn the hard way.
1. Just because the contractor is listed in the Yellow Pages or in the phone book does not mean they are licensed and insured. Check for their license number online at: http://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/mhic/ (check your state for their listing) and ask for proof of insurance. It is VERY important and it is your responsibility to check credentials.
2. The best way to hire a contractor is through word-of-mouth. But whether you have a referral or not, ask for references. And CALL! Do not be afraid to ask lots of questions: Were you happy with the end result? Were you happy with the process? Was the project completed on time and within budget? (If not, ask for specifics – it might not have been the contractor’s fault). Were the contractor and actual work team polite? Did they listen? What was the experience of having the contractor and his/her team in your home like?
3. Ask for pictures of finished projects like yours. For small jobs, pictures may not be available. In that case, you can review pictures of unrelated projects. You want to get a sense of the contractor’s work.
4. Ask how many other projects the contractor will be working on in addition to yours. Be sure they are not spread too thin.
5. Check to see if complaints have been filed against the contractor. Check the Consumer Protection Agency or the Better Business Bureau. Google the contractor’s name and business name.
6. Always, and I can’t stress this enough, ALWAYS get a written estimate and/or contract. Make sure that the paperwork spells out what will happen if there is a problem or the cost exceeds the quote. Look for a start and end date. Ask the contractor to break out labor and materials separately. A good rule of thumb: Labor should be about twice the cost of materials.
7. If something makes you unhappy during the course of the project, stop the work until the problem is straightened out. Do not continue with a contractor you are not happy with. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel, it’s better to end the relationship than to continue when you are less than pleased.
8. If you are not going to be there while the work is being performed, have someone else stop by, or come home early/leave late on certain days. Always be aware of what is happening.