It’s Home Improvement Season: Why Using a Licensed Contractor is Critical

We’ve all heard the stories. Maybe even been a victim. An unscrupulous or unlicensed contractor hired to give you your dream home, landscape, kitchen or bathroom starts the project, collects payment, then disappears leaving the job unfinished or done improperly.

Before you invest in any home improvement project, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) reminds you to do your due diligence before hiring any contractor to perform work in or on your home. Hiring an unlicensed contractor or a licensed contractor not in good standing may result in a bad or incomplete installation and limits your ability to seek financial redress. Follow these tips from CSLB:

  • Check the license: Any contractor doing $500 or more in work (including materials and labor) must be licensed by CSLB to work in California. For your protection, hire only state-licensed contractors—they are tested, experienced and have proven levels of competency. Contractors can have a variety of special licenses. Check with the board to make sure yours is properly licensed for the specific work you want done. Verify a license by calling CSLB toll-free at (800) 321-CSLB (2752) or visit their website at Confirm that your contractor carries workers’ compensation insurance for employees that might be working on your property. Otherwise, you may be liable for the costs of medical care and rehabilitation for any workers injured on your project. In addition, the new “Find My Licensed Contractor” feature allows consumers to search for licensed contractors by trade classification within a specific geographic area based on either city or zip code.  The randomly ordered results include a link to the contractor’s license information and can be downloaded as either a PDF or in an Excel file.  You can verify the license of a landscape architect at
  • Get three (or more) bids: Obtain at least three price estimates and ask for references on work the contractor has completed locally. Multiple bids will help identify contractors who are offering unrealistic prices. Contact the references to find out how their experience was and if they were satisfied with the end result. Check out the finished projects, if possible.
  • Get it ALL in writing: In California, there must be a written contract for all home improvement projects over $500 in combined labor and materials costs. Contractors cannot ask for a deposit of more than 10 percent of the total cost for the job or $1,000, whichever is less. Ask for a current list of contact information for not only the contractor, but also the subcontractors and suppliers. Be sure all materials to be used are listed in the contract as well. Only sign the contract if you completely understand the terms.
  • Manage the project and the payments: Never pay in cash and don’t let payments get ahead of the work. Keep all receipts, and don’t make the final payment until you’re completely satisfied with the finished job.
  • Don’t be rushed: Take the time to do your research. You are less likely to be scammed and more likely to be pleased with the result. Start with CSLB’s comprehensive video titled ‘Doing it Right: Hiring a Licensed Contractor.’ The video guides consumers through the process of selecting, hiring and managing a contractor.

For more information, visit the “Consumers” section at

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