Personal Finance

Action Line: Do your homework before hiring a contractor

A reader: I guess I have spring fever. I look outside and find that my home and yard are both in need of minor repairs and cleanup. I have trees that need to be trimmed, the trim on my house needs to be painted and I need a new fence. How do I go about finding a good contractor?

Action Line: You have started in the right place: asking questions, researching and finding out what to do next. Pick a few companies that you think would be good to do business with and then before you call them for an estimate:

• Check out the business review of the company at

. If you are not sure who to call, use the BBB Request A Quote program. It’s free. Again just go to the BBB website.

• Verify the contractor’s license, insurance and bonding by calling the Contractors State License Board at (800) 321-2752 or by going online to


• Obtain at least three written estimates.

• Before signing a contract, OBTAIN IN WRITING: start/completion dates; description of the work; payment schedules; materials to be installed; promises/guarantees on workmanship; and manufacturer’s guarantees. Be sure everything you will be paying for is in the contract.

• You are only required to pay 10% or $1,000, whichever is less, on a deposit of the work to be done.

• It is customary for some companies to file preliminary lien notices. Don’t panic. Check with the supplier to see if they have been paid by the contractor to avoid a lien being placed on your home and you having to pay twice.

• Be aware that California law limits the period within which a complaint may be filed against a contractor to three years from the date when the act or omission occurred.

• Do not sign off on a completed job until all the work has been properly completed.

• For more tips, get the brochure from the Contractor’s State License Board called “What You Should Know Before You Hire A Contractor” or visit their


. You can also visit the BBB’s


for more tips.

BBB also has a complaint process and it is free. You can file a complaint with the BBB and/or the state contractor’s board. Any contracting work costing more than $500 requires a contractor’s license in California. The board has run several recent stings trying to weed out unlicensed contractors, so beware. Don’t assume that the license number a contractor shows you is legitimate; check it out.

You can also notify your local district attorney and your local police department if a crime is committed.