How to properly vet a contractor?

Finding and vetting a contractor for a home renovation can be difficult and expensive if you pick the wrong contractor.  Most home owners usually have little experience with construction and can easily be bamboozled by a slick talking contractor.  With a few simple steps, you can hopefully prevent your home renovation project from becoming a nightmare.

1. Check Licenses

This seems like common sense but most people don’t do this.  California requires all contractors to be licensed in their specific trade.  Below is a link to the California State License (CSLB) website where you can put in the contractor’s name or license number and confirm they are licensed and has workman compensation.  The reason this is important, aside from the legal ramifications for the contractor, is that if something goes wrong, you are not protected by the $15,000 license bond that every license contractor is required to carry.

2. Should Have Back Log of Work

If you’re good at what you do, you should be busy.  Same goes for contractors.  The guy that can start tomorrow is not busy and there is probably a reason for that.  Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, most contractors are at least a month or two booked out.  If you want it start sooner and want a good contractor, you’re probably going to have to pay to jump to the head of the line.

3. Look Closely at the Bid

A bid, quote and contract says a lot about the contractor and their work product.  Bid and quotes should be detailed and specific.  Some of the thing I like to see are:

  • List of materials and quantities to be used
  • Model numbers of appliances
  • General description of how the project will be completed
  • A schedule of when specific items will be completed
  • A breakdown and cost associated with specific parts of the project

Contracts should be lengthy and cover all the possible scenarios if the project goes bad. Professionalism with the paperwork is an indicator of how professional the construction work will be performed.

4. What is the Contractor’s Specialty

Too often a plumber becomes a framer and then becomes the electrician on projects.  Typically a contractor has a specific trade that they learned and been groomed for.  The Jack of all trades can be a recipe for disaster, particularly in larger, more complex home renovations.  I usually recommend to clients to have each trade performed by a company or professional that does it every day.  It might cost more but it’s more likely it will be done up to current code and construction standards.