03 February 2012
How to Hire a Contractor: What to Know Before Work Begins

Are you considering major work to your home or yard? Maybe you want to upgrade your kitchen, replace your concrete driveway with pavers, install energy-efficient windows or do something else to improve the look and value of your property.  You aren’t alone.  With the sour economy and depressed housing market, more homeowners are opting to stay in and make improvements to their homes rather than sell and relocate.  Before you move forward with any project needing a contractor’s expertise, be sure to protect yourself by hiring one who’s licensed.

“When consumers hire licensed contractors, it’s like hiring a contractor with a protection plan in place,” said Margi A.  Grein, executive officer, Nevada State Contractors Board (NSCB).  “A licensed contractor has passed the necessary trade and law exams, carries workman’s compensation insurance and is bonded.”

You also have up to four years to file a complaint with the NSCB if substandard workmanship issues arise after project completion.  If your grievance is deemed valid, you could recover some or all of the costs of those damages.  All contracts made with unlicensed contractors, however, are considered null and void in Nevada, Grein added.

While it may be tempting and seemingly cheaper to hire an unlicensed contractor, experts advise that you don’t.  You could wind up with someone who performs shoddy work or quits mid-project, leaving you with problems.  Further, you could be held financially liable if someone gets injured.  If your property gets damaged, you’d have no recourse and would have to pay for repair yourself.

Finding the right professional

Begin by asking friends and family members for recommendations, or peruse NSCB’s website for names of licensed contractors specializing in the type of work you need done.  Another option is checking Angie’s List, a word-of-mouth network with 22,000 Nevada members, according to a company representative.  By phone, e-mail or online, you can obtain names and consumer reviews of highly ranked contractors by specialty.  All reviews are posted by consumers (never the companies themselves), and none is anonymous.  More than 70 Nevada cities are represented in Angie’s List’s database.

Once you have at least three names, contact each one for information, which you’ll use to vet the individuals.  Ask for the following:

Contractor’s license.  Ask for their license number, then verify their license status by calling one of NSCB’s offices or checking its website.  You can learn whether their license is active, suspended or revoked, and if any disciplinary actions have been taken against them in the previous five years.

General liability insurance.  Ask for their general liability insurer and agent.  Call the agent to verify a policy is in place and current.  If your contractor lacks this insurance, ultimately you could pay for any mistakes or problems.

Workers’ compensation coverage.  Ask who’ll perform the work—the contractor’s employees or a subcontractor’s workers—and whether their employer has workers’ compensation on them, because that’s essential.  If any uncovered laborer gets injured while working on your property, you could be held liable.

Certifications.  Find out if certifications are available in the contractor’s field (windows, flooring, vinyl siding installation, etc.) and whether they have a certification.

Work experience.  Inquire about the contractor’s previous work.  Ask to see photos of projects they’ve done or ask for addresses you could visit and look at in person.

References.  Ask for a minimum of three references per potential contractor.  Contact all and ask pertinent questions like whether the job was done on time, whether they were pleased with the work, whether there were cost overruns, whether there were problems, etc.

• Contractor’s record with the Better Business Bureau.  Ask your local BBB about the contractors’ standings and whether any complaints have been filed against them.

Use the data you gather from your research to decide whether or not each potential candidate stays in the running.  If none seems appropriate, start over.  Once you have three solid candidates, ask each to visit your property, analyze the project and provide a bid.  Then narrow your choice to one.  If you feel good about it, hire them and obtain a written contract from them before any work begins.  Don’t sign it until you understand and agree with all of the terms.

Potential red flags

As you’re going through the process, be aware of the signs that a contractor isn’t reputable.  One danger sign is if a contractor won’t provide some or all of the information you request.  Another is if you can’t verify a contractor’s name, address, telephone number or credentials—license, insurance, workers’ compensation insurance and bonded status.  Further, a contractor should never ask you to obtain building permits or require large down payments or the entire project cost up front.  If any of these events happen, cease discussions with the contractor and cross them off your list of potentials.

If you take the recommended steps, you’re most likely to find a competent, legitimate contractor for the job.  Knowing you’re safeguarded from potentially disastrous outcomes is well worth the time and effort it takes to do the homework.

Resources:

Nevada State Contractors Board
Southern Nevada: (702) 486-1100
Northern Nevada: (775) 688-1141
www.nvcontractorsboard.com

Angie’s List
(888) 888-LIST (5478)
www.angieslist.com

Better Business Bureau
Southern Nevada: (702) 320-4500, www.southernnevada.bbb.org
Northern Nevada: (775) 322-0657, www.reno.bbb.org

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