5 Top Tips To Keep on Top of Contractors

(April 24, 2015)


Time for Home Improvements

It's springtime in Los Angeles, so many of us homeowners will start home improvement projects that we've put off the rest of the year. I will say that in Southern California, we don't really have an excuse to not start a project any time of the year because of the weather. 

But, nonetheless, it is a great time to start any home improvement project. Before you start, the California contractors State license Board will help you get started in the right way.  There are 5 top tips to make sure your home improvement project goes the right way.

Licensing and Insurance. The first and most important, is to hire a licensed contractor with proper licensing and good references. You can check on the status of any license in California by going to the State of California website. Importantly, you should ask to see a copy of the contractors license, to verify it matches what you see online. Just because someone gets good Yelp or Angie's list reviews doesn't mean that they have a current license. So make sure that you verify that the contractor is licensed.  

Also, make sure that you have a copy and/or review the contractor's current insurance certificates. If the contractor is not insured, you could be held liable for any injuries or damages that may arise during the course of the project. It's also a good idea to check with your homeowners insurance company, as well, to see what is covered on your end. 

Payment Structure.  The second important tip, is don't pay for the entire project at the beginning. One way to pay for a project is to pay in thirds. If you pay one third as an advance, the contractor can use that money to buy materials. The next third can be given after both you and the contractor agree that the project is halfway completed. Then, the final third can be given upon completion when you are satisfied with the work and all the final details have been completed.  This includes making sure that the job site is clean and free of trash, too.

It's good to pay by check or credit card so that you have a paper trail. If you pay by cash you can be one person's word against another. Please note that contractors can get supplies from their suppliers and pay them later.  If the contractor doesn't  pay the supplier in a timely manner, a lien can be placed on the property of record (your property), so make sure to see a copy of paid receipts for all materials. You should do this no matter what so that the materials' costs matches what you were told in the beginning anyway.

Proper Permitting. The next thing is to make sure you get a permit, if a permit is necessary for the project.  City websites have become fairly straightforward in describing what work requires a permit and what is necessary to obtain the permit.  Permits and inspections will help ensure that the project is done in a workmanlike manner. Some homeowners insurance will not cover work that was not permitted nor done in a workmanlike manner. Also problems can arise when you want to sell your house if you did not get the proper permits for large projects, or small ones for that matter. 

Permits are often needed for the following projects: 

  • Electrical (even changes switchplates)
  • Plumbing (even for installing new fixtures or a new water heater)
  • HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems)
  • Additions (bedrooms, bathrooms, family rooms)
  • Other work (decks, garages and fences)
  • Window replacement/retrofit

Get 3 Bids. The next tip is to always get 3 written bids. Each of these bids should detail the project specifically and include costs for materials, labor and a timeline. It should also detail the payment structure. After receiving 3 bids, you will typically find the one that makes the most sense for you to use. It may not be the one with the lowest bid, but it will be the one that you feel most comfortable with in terms of completing the job properly and to your expectations.  One of the best ways to find contractors to give a bid is to talk to your neighbors, your friends, coworkers and family and see who they liked in terms of work ethic, reliability, and finished work. Yelp and Angie's List are good resources, too.  If you use an online resource, you should also ask the contractor for references that you can call. They should happily provide them to you. Bonus Tip: Don't tell the contractors what the other bids came in at.

A Written Contract.  Just like getting a written bid, make sure you get the written contract that clearly states the information left on the estimate, as well as any new details that you and a contractor have worked out. Importantly, it should also include how long the contractor will guarantee their work. A warranty is often associated with any project, so make sure it's on the contract. The contract should include the start date, the completion date, the total cost of the job, and the payment schedule.  Make sure you read over it again and refer to the contract when discussing any issues with the contractor. Also, if there any changes to the project (change order), whether it be on the contractor's side or on your side, get it in writing and signed by both you and the contractor.

DOWNLOAD the FREE Guide to Completing LA's Retrofit Requirements


Jennifer Shenbaum

Written by Jennifer Shenbaum

Jennifer Shenbaum is a real estate investor based in Southern California. She is a veteran of the housing market crash of 2007. Best of all, she offers free remodeling ideas to all who ask.

Post a Comment