Do-it-yourself Home Improvements

When doing it yourself… is more DOING than you can DO! So, You Consider Yourself a Real Do-it-yourselfer, eh? Good for you! Not all of us are that handy around the house. However, you have to admit that there are some things you can’t do without a little bit, or a lot, of help.

Not only that, but there are actually a lot of things you legally CAN’T do without help. But say you do want to do some remodeling or add something to your home. Where do you start to make sure you’re a) getting the right professional for the job and b) not biting off more than you can chew…or build?

First things first…

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Picking a Contractor

Not all contractors are the same. “You wouldn’t trust your health to an unlicensed doctor, why trust a huge investment like a home remodel to an unlicensed contractor?” said Melanie Bedwell, Public Information Officer for the Contractors State License Board.

In California, Bedwell continued, “we license contractors in forty-four different classifications.” That means that not all contractors can do what you’re looking to do. For example, there are three license categories. A is general engineering, B is general building, and C is the specialties…42 of them to be precise (C10 is lighting, C20 is air). If a contractor has a C license, they can only perform work in that very specific field, like tree maintenance or siding and decking, unless they have licensing for other areas. “The reason for all this licensing started back in 1929 to make sure that contractors in this state were performing work at a high standard; that consumers weren’t falling victim to substandard work,” Bedwell explained.

When a contractor is licensed, they don’t just pay a fee, they have to meet a number of financial and skill requirements. Law and business exams, trade exams, operating capital, and they have to be bonded and carry workers comp for any employees. They’ve undergone criminal background checks, too. “It’s important to remember that a business license is a completely different thing,” Bedwell said. “The consumers are the ones who are paying money out of their pockets—they are the ones that need to do a little homework before they commit to a contractor.”

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If the contractor is not licensed, “then the property owner assumes all risk in that case, whether it be substandard work that has to be redone or even an injury of an employee,” she added. “We can be of assistance to someone dealing with a licensed contractor, but if you hire a non-licensed contractor, we can’t help resolve any problems that come up involving work promised or money that’s changed hands.”

So before you get ahead of yourself, Bedwell recommends asking about contractors via word of mouth. Talk to friends and family about contractors they’ve liked and then, take a look at their work. Your sister might say she liked someone because they were really nice, but you’re not paying for nice. “They should have a track record of consistent work. You can talk to local builders exchanges, too. I’d be cautious about anyone you find online without an official website. Essentially we want everyone to do their homework.” When you think you’ve found someone, ask for their California contractors license number—it’s got to be California. Being licensed in one state does not mean they are cleared to work in any state. Then go to cslb.ca.gov, that’s the State License Board’s website, and there is big box for you to enter in their number (you can also call 1-800-321-2752 to be talked through the steps) or their name and business name. Once you’ve found their information, you can find out if they are licensed for what you need, their standing with the board, and company information that can help you make your decision.

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