If you’re considering doing renovations on your home, it pays to do some research on the company you plan to hire. We’ve all heard the horror stories about people who have had bad contractor experiences, whether it’s sloppy workmanship, cost overruns or even worse, a contractor who takes your money upfront and doesn’t return to do any work whatsoever.

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What can you do to protect yourself from phony contractors and not get ripped off?

The first and most important thing, says Steve Breen, a spokesperson for the Contractors State License Board, is to hire a licensed contractor. “You’re at a greater risk of being exposed to shoddy or even dangerous work by hiring an unlicensed contractor,” Breen says. “So we really warn consumers—especially seniors who are often targeted–to not just take a contractor’s word that they are licensed, but to also check their credentials thoroughly.”

Breen says contracting without a license can carry a penalty of up to $5,000 and up to six months in jail for first-time offenders. Contractors who also fail to mention in advertisements that they are licensed can be fined up to $1,000.

The Contractors State License Board’s website,, provides consumers quick and easy access to check a contractor’s credentials and license history .

Here are a few additional tips to consider when hiring a contractor.

    • NO PRESSURE—Watch for contractors who use pressure tactics such as “limited time offers” that require you to make hasty decisions and hire them on the spot.
    • SAY WHAT? –Never enter into a verbal agreement with a contractor. Get all the work you’re requesting in writing just in case disputes arise. You should never pay a contractor the total amount for services up front. In California, contractors are only entitled to deposits of 10 percent of the total cost of the job or $1,000—whichever is less—unless the contractor has a special bond.
    • KEEP YOUR CASH–If a contractor insists you pay with cash, beware. Always pay for your services with a check or credit card. This protects you in case the contractor botches the job and or fails to complete the work. In addition, you can call your bank and put a stop payment on a check and depending on your bank/credit card provider, cancel the payment and have it refunded back to you.
    • CLICK OR CALL CSLB–For more information about hiring licensed contractors, check out the CSLB website or call 1- 800-321-CSLB (2752). You also can sign up for CSLB email alerts.

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