Do-it-yourself Home Improvements

Proposals, Contracts, Down Payments

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Okay so you found a contractor you think will be perfect for the job. You just tell him to get moving, right?

So much more has to happen, friend. Melanie Bedwell at the Contractors State License Board continued, “You always want to get three bids to make sure the estimate is not too high or too low.” It’s important to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples—meaning the three licensed contractors are all including the same costs, estimates, equipment, time, and supplies in their bids. One might be very low, but you might discover they didn’t include supplies. And don’t be afraid to ask a million questions, not only of the contractor, but of the homeowners where the contractor has done similar work.

Bedwell advised, “be as detailed as possible. Within a contract, all the work that is going to be performed must be listed. Step by step—everything detailed, right down to the smallest points. It has to be in writing, too; unfortunately you can’t go old-fashioned and share a handshake.” What she means by detailed is this: Change kitchen cabinets. NO. Alter cabinets with such and such hinges, this color, this hardware. YES.

Never sign until you are truly comfortable with what is in writing and that your contractor understands exactly what you want. “Never feel pressured to just sign right away.”

Also, a contractor cannot request a down payment of more than 1,000 dollars or 10 percent of the contract, whichever is less, Bedwell detailed.

“Any work in the state of California with a combined labor and material cost of five hundred dollars or more must be licensed.” But never let your payments get ahead of the work being done. A contractor cannot come up to you and say they need money upfront for materials or even halfway through to finish the job. Pay after the job is performed. If they ask, do not pay!”

Finally, she recommends that homeowners keep a job file of everything that is happening, photographs, correspondences, and make sure that any change to the contract IS WRITTEN IN THE CONTRACT.

Housing/Contractor Scams

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Not to scare you too much, but there are some evil contractors out there. No, they’re not wearing black capes and holding knives, but they are out there to take your money…and run.

Having an unlicensed contractor work on your home can be a huge mistake. You can be liable for an injury on your property or held accountable for any damage done to the home and any costs incurred by having to redo shoddy work.

According to Kern County Deputy District Attorney David E. Wolf, “those are minor financial troubles. The ‘unlicensed’ contractor could be a felon or even a registered sex offender.

“The Kern County District Attorney’s Office and the California Contractors State License Board are seeing a shocking number of fraud cases committed by unlicensed, uninsured, incompetent, and fake contractors,” he said. “There are cases where criminals with serious felony records are pretending to be licensed contractors and working inside people’s homes. There is a case where a fake contractor took the victims’ money, put a hole in their roof and never came back. There is another case where an unlicensed contractor committed fraud against seven different elderly victims…that could be your parents, grandparents, or loved ones.”

Wolf recommends visiting the State License Board website to check the contractor you’re interested in hiring.

“Fraudulent contractors frequently give out a city license number, which doesn’t require a background check or workers’ compensation insurance. My other favorite site is from our local Better Business Bureau. Not only can you find out about a license, but you can also see problems that others have had. They even report government actions—like prosecutions. What does the BBB charge for all this great information? It is FREE. Hats off to our local BBB office.”

If you do find yourself playing victim to a fraudulent contractor, Wolf said to report it to local law enforcement, the State License Board, the BBB, and to the District Attorney’s Fraud hotline (1-800-619-3039).

“Admitting you’ve been ripped off may be embarrassing, but if you report it we might be able to arrest and prosecute the perpetrator. We might be able to get you some of your hard-earned money back, and finally, you might be protecting someone else from also becoming a victim.”

Fraud is no joke! Please contact Deputy District Attorney Wolf with any questions. He has been a prosecutor for over two decades and has prosecuted crimes ranging from misdemeanors to murder. He is currently assigned to the fraud unit. The fraud unit provides training and outreach to the public on fraud prevention and what to do if you are a victim of fraud. If your group or organization would like a presentation on Workers’ Compensation Fraud, ID Theft, and Contractor Fraud, please contact the District Attorney’s Fraud Hotline at 1-800-619-3039 to make a request for a presentation.

Navigating the Maze

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“Anything except painting or wallpaper or maybe replacing cabinets requires a permit,” explained Robert Sawyer. He’s the principle building inspector for the County of Kern. “Most people don’t think about it, but even changing a ceiling fan requires a permit, mainly to ensure that the proper wiring techniques are used.”

That goes for all new buildings, new additions in the home, knocking down walls, what have you.

“You want to make sure that construction and items that are installed in and around the home meet minimum code standards for the state,” Sawyer added. “I hear tales all the time about what can go wrong; a person installed a new lighting system without a permit, it sparks a fire, and the person is completely held responsible for all the damages, because even insurance companies can use the fact that it was not permitted as an out to not cover anything.”

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