Sun, July 21

Hiring a Contractor
Ask the Contractor

The cost of buying and owning a home is probably the biggest investment made by most people in their lifetime. Property owners therefore often look for the lowest price when looking to build or remodel a home. Since most unlicensed entities are not bonded or insured and do not pay into the residential contractors' recovery fund or pay any unemployment compensation for their workers, they can often under bid the licensed professional. This bottom line may at first be attractive to the property owner, as a way to lower costs and save money. Most of the time, it is not.

With the unprecedented growth in our county, hundreds and even thousands of "would-be" contractors are still active and growing daily. Individuals who may have worked as a laborer or a framer for a short period of time decide that they are ready to start their own business. In spite of the fact that they lack sufficient capital and experience, they print up flyers, distribute business cards and place an ad in the yellow pages.

In an attempt to get "the best price", the unsuspecting consumer calls the number listed on the flyer or in the ad and asks for a bid. Often, such operations are run out of a mail drop or on an answering machine, or a cell phone and someone usually calls the consumer back. When you get the bid, you are really pleased at how much this person / company says they can save you. You may even see "licensed, bonded and insured" on the business card or in the ad. Then the story begins. The contractor tells you he is going to need a large portion of the money up front. He may say he needs it to purchase materials, or to pay workers for another job where the property owner is slow to pay. He may even tell you about the unexpected medical bills he had to pay for a sick child (that he really doesn't have), in hopes of gaining your sympathy.

At first things may seem fine. In a day or two a worker shows up and starts measuring, or a small load of material is delivered to the job site. Then the excuses begin. After a week has passed, with no work being done, you call your unlicensed contractor. All you get is a recorded message, so you leave a message, politely requesting a return phone call. Several more days passed, with no response, so you call and leave another message, not as polite as the first. When the "contractor" does call, he is very apologetic and tells you about some catastrophe involving either his truck, his family, his help or another job he just had to complete. He promises to get right on your job the next day. A week later he still hasn't shown up, or he does show up and says he needs more money.

Sound ridiculous? Well it happens every day, often with the consumer losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. You, as the property owner have little recourse other than to pursue the matter in court.

Hiring a licensed contractor offers many additional protections to you as the property owner. First of all, a contractor cannot obtain a license without possessing a minimum amount of experience and must pass a business, management and experience test. The applicant also may be subjected to a criminal history background check, and must not have any unresolved contracting complaints outstanding.

Should you experience the above problems with licensed contractor, you as a residential property owner have significant protections not available to persons utilizing an unlicensed contractor. Among them is the ability to file a complaint against the contractor's license, in most cases, for a period of two years from the date of occupancy or date the last work was performed. This is your guarantee should the workmanship be below standard or in violation of existing codes.

Under certain conditions, you may also be eligible to apply to the residential contractors' recovery fund and receive up to thirty thousand dollars to have the work corrected or completed. Each licensed contractor is covered for up to $200,000.00 to a maximum of $30,000.00 per residential property owner, on a first come, first serve basis upon filing a complete claim.

Monthly, right here in Yavapai County property owners are solicited by unlicensed entities who promise deals, which sound too good to be true and most of the time, they are, and all too often, the homeowner is defrauded out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Here are some tactics that you as a consumer should be on guard against:

DON'T accept a contractor's advertising or word as proof of being legitimate or of possessing a current, valid contractor's license. Ask to see the actual license and call YCCA to verify a license and status.

DON'T respond to "scare tactic" door to door salesman who say they were just driving by and notice a problem with your roof or driveway, and they just happen to have extra material on their truck.

DON'T make major or full advance payments to the contractor for purchase of materials for your job site. Con men will often do superficial defective work, or even no work at all and never return. You then might encounter major bills to correct the damage or problems left behind.

DON'T supply telephone solicitors with credit card or other personal credit information on promises of free inspections or free gifts.

DON'T accept the first price or bid that comes along, especially on major construction or remodeling projects. Be very skeptical of bids or prices that are much lower than others obtained. Bids should not be unbalanced and if they are, there is an issue.

DON'T assume that even if a contractor is licensed that you will get what you pay for and be protected. Occasionally, even licensed contractors develop financial difficulties, have employee or credit problems, or fail to keep their license current.

DON'T allow solicitors or contractors to have access to your home or property without a prior appointment, and without having first verified the contractor's name, the name of the business, the company's current contractor license number, and the name of the person who will be sent to your home to do the work.

DON'T judge a book by its cover. Many con men depend upon their victim's being fooled by their friendly, professional appearance or confident approach.

They may also take the other approach of attempting to intimidate or threaten people into signing contracts or making payments. Remember there is seldom a case where a property owner needs to sign a contract immediately.

If you have a question about a home improvement project or need a specific contractor or want to know about hiring licensed contractors, Call Sandy, Executive Director at Yavapai County Contractors Association - 928-778-0040. Don't Start Without YCCA!