Monday, November 28, 2011

10 Tips for Selecting a Contractor

He's cute and charming, but
he's probably not licensed.
If you're handier with a checkbook than you are with a hammer, trying to figure out whether you're picking the right contractor might seem like an overwhelming task. Whether it's some simple updates and maintenance or a major remodel, here are ten tips to help you find the right contractor for your home-improvement job.
  1. Define your project and your budget. Have a clear sense of what you want to do, how much you have to spend, and realistic timeframes for the type of project you want done.
  2. Talk to friends and neighbors. Get recommendations for contractors, materials, and feedback about the process itself. A little experience-based advice can go a long way.
  3. Get at least three bids. Make sure the bids are from licensed contractors by checking their license information online at or by phone at 800-321-2752.
  4. Check references. Each bidder should provide you with at least three references. Check the work in person if at all possible.
  5. Verify insurance. Confirm that the contractor has worker's compensation coverage for employees.
  6. Put everything in writing. Don't sign a contract unless all the details are in writing and you completely understand the terms for payment, timing, materials, permits, etc.
  7. Ask questions. If something isn't clear or doesn't seem the way you expect, ask about it. The contractor licensing process does not involve psychic training. Good communication with your contractor (like with anyone else) is the key to a successful relationship. 
  8. Pay in stages. Never pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less. Don't pay in cash and don't let payments get ahead of the work. Don't make the final payment until you're satisfied with the job.
  9. Maintain records. Keep a file of all papers relating to the project, including all payments and details on the materials and sources. If there are any problems, keep close documentation with details, dates, and people involved.
  10. Pay attention. Stay involved with the process and check the work as it's done. As clear as your documentation may be, things sometimes look different when they move from paper ideas to real walls and work.
For more information, check the California Contractors State License Board's checklist for prescreening contractors.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Use a Licensed Contractor?

These days, all sorts of people are promoting themselves as builders, handymen, and contractors -- offering their home-improvement services. Some look like they just woke up and decided to go into construction, others look like true professionals. But looks aren't everything.

In California, anyone who contracts to perform work on a project that is valued at $500 or more for labor and materials must hold a current, valid license from the Contractors State License Board. The good news is that it's easy to verify someone's license. You can verify the license on-line or call CSLB at 1-800-321-2752.

Sometimes it seems like a less expensive option, but in the long run hiring unlicensed workers can be far more expensive -- from legal issues to having to repair low-quality work. Working with an unlicensed contractor comes with a list of financial risks, including:
  • Exposure you to significant financial harm in the event that a worker is injured while on your property, if your property is damaged, if the work is incomplete and/or faulty. 
  • Few, if any, unlicensed individuals have bonding or workers' compensation insurance. 
  • The quality of their work usually doesn't compare to that of a licensed contractor. 
There are 43 CSLB classifications ranging from general contractors to a long list of specialty contractors. Identifying your project up front will help you identify the right people for the job.

The CSLB has great resources to help you select the right licensed contractor for your project. Check them out here:

Friday, November 18, 2011

New Heating System? Three Words for You: Permits, Permits, Permits

Brrr... It's getting colder outside and if you haven't done it yet, you're looking for the matches to light the pilot on your heater. Or you're realizing that your heating system just isn't what you need anymore. It's inefficient, noisy, and works when it decides to work. Before you pay the guy who came to the door offering free estimates, check references and make sure you're dealing with a locally based state-licensed contractor. And make sure your contractor pulls building permits before starting the work. 

Good advice from the Contractors State Licensing Board...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Time for Fall Home Maintenance!

Fall is here and winter is on the way. If you lived in one of those crazy winter wonderlands like Wisconsin, you'd have a long list of winterizing chores to tackle this time each year. Even in scenic Northern California, there are things you should consider before the rains come and that thin layer of frost appears on your windshield before work in the morning.

Some things are quick and easy, while others are a bit more of a chore. Nine things to consider for your fall to-do list right now. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Financial Benefits of Remodeling

Should we upgrade the kitchen? What's the return on our investment? Is it worth it?

Some home projects aren't trivial little weekend DIY deals. Many times they involve big decisions. Before you even get to arm wrestling over tile colors and flooring options, you need to decide whether the expenditure is worth it in the end. In most cases, the answer is yes. The expenses are recouped and add value to the house when it comes to resale.

But don't take my word for it. Check the research.