Hiring a Contractor Step-by-Step

Preparation is key when hiring a licensed contractor, and as Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  So how do you properly prepare for a construction project, and who can you trust to give you such advice?  Start with those who regulate the contractors.

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) protects California consumers by licensing and regulating the state’s construction industry. Hiring a CSLB-licensed contractor is an essential factor in consumer protection.

Here are some tips CSLB recommends when hiring a licensed contractor.

Create a Project Folder
Start with a file folder to store all of your paperwork. You will need to keep track of contractor and subcontractor information, insurance papers, receipts, and other project documents.

Material Costs
Hiring a Contractor sinkYour contractor will help you determine the total cost of materials, but it is a good idea to do some research before you start the interview process to keep control of your cost estimates. The cost of a faucet might range from $30 to $300, so it is important to get an idea of what you like and what fits into your budget. Pick out products you really like, but have a backup with a different price point. Make sure to note the brand, model number, and price of all the materials you want to use.

You’re Ready to Interview a Licensed Contractor
Before hiring a licensed contractor you should interview and get bids from at least three. Ask your friends, family, and people you trust about any contractors they’ve worked with successfully. Another source could be your local builders association, and there is always the Internet. But before you hire your contractor, be sure to get his or her license number and check it at www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com or by calling (800) 321-CSLB (2752). CSLB’s database will be able to tell you if the contractor is in good standing, is licensed for the trade work involved in your project, and if the contractor has worker’s compensation insurance for employees.

When the contractor arrives, the first thing you will want to do is make sure the name on the contractor’s license matches his or her driver license or other photo ID. Now it’s time to discuss your project.

CSLB pocket license

Hiring a Contractor drivers license

Check the Candidates Twice
After interviewing a few licensed contractors and selecting a favorite, it’s time to check references. This is a chance to check the contractor’s professional reputation. Ask for a list of people who have had similar work done by that contractor. If the references tell you about positive experiences, ask to see the project in person. Be sure to view at least three other projects to help ensure you are going to get the quality of work you desire.

You Found THE ONE, But are You Ready to Sign a Contract?
Hiring a Contractor expertsYour hard work is paying off and it is finally time to sign a contract, but don’t rush to sign on the dotted line. If yours is a large, more complicated project, such as new home construction or an extensive remodel, this is a good time to have an independent expert review your project plans. You can go to a local builders exchange office and use one of their “plan check rooms” to have one of the qualified pros, who volunteer their time, review this for you.

This is also the time to add more paperwork to your file. If this is going to be “your contractor,” then be sure to get copies of the workers’ compensation and general liability insurance policies. CSLB’s website will have information about the workers’ compensation insurance on the contractor’s detail page.

The Contract Check List
Hiring a Contractor checklistThe contract should include the contract start and completion date; a payment schedule for work (but only pay for work after it has been completed); planned details of the project; detailed information about the materials to be used; a list of all sub-contractors; the stipulation that the contractor will obtain all building permits, take care of debris removal and clean up, and locations where the materials will be stored; and the deposit amount. By law, the deposit can’t be more than $1,000 or 10% of the total bid, whichever is less, unless the contractor has what’s called a blanket performance and payment bond on file with CSLB. This bond will be noted on the contractor’s detail page on CSLB’s website or you can call the toll-free automated information line. Contracts also are required to include such information as mechanics liens, how to contact CSLB, and the three-day right to cancel.

Once you know who all of the subcontractors, workers, and material suppliers will be, have each sign a lien release form. (Standard lien release forms are available on CSLB’s website.) Double-check the list and get a qualified professional to review everything before you sign your contract.

Congratulations! You Hired a Contractor
Hiring a contractor can be quite an experience. It’s important for you to participate in each step of your project, visit the worksite regularly, and take photographs. Pictures will help you document the progression of the project, and can be a useful tool if problems arise.

Remember, the Contractors State License Board is here for you. If you have questions, or need help, check www.cslb.ca.gov or call (800) 321-CSLB (2752).

Additional resources can be found in the Consumer section of CSLB’s website.

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