Do you know how to protect yourself from shady Contractors?
In this time and economy it’s more important than ever to protect yourself from crappy contractors and shady Home “improvement” companies.
Since we specialize in Remodeling, Custom Cabinets and Counter tops I will dwell on those the most.
Let’s look at some of the issues at hand.
1- Unlicensed contractors. If in doubt look them up!!
In Utah the web site is https://secure.utah.gov/llv/search/index.html;jsessionid=0648d79e3a2600629ce35bb39235
You can see if they are licensed, what they are licensed for, and if there are any outstanding issues with their license. Have I said it enough? Unlicensed contractors are ripping off many people every day.
2- Are they insured? Contractors carry both liability and workman’s comp insurance. This protects YOU as much as the contractor. If they have an accident and burn your home down. And they are not insured, then YOU have to fight with your homeowners to cover the damage caused by their negligence. What’s more, if one of their workers gets hurt in your home, then your homeowners has to cover their medical expenses.
No one is telling you this. It’s a little issue that everyone seems content to sweep under the rug and hope you never find out.
Let’s look at things out side of your home and out of your control. (or are they?)
3-Garage/Storage unit contractors. There is nothing wrong with having your office out of your home. I personally do it for the tax write off. However it is illegal to be running a manufacturing company in the garage, back yard or barn. When I licensed my office, Farmington City sent me a long list of do’s and don’ts. They included how many company trucks could be on the premises (1) How many Company Trailers (0), How many signs (1 no more than 18×24), and a bold warning about having clients coming and going. Furthermore it stated that under Davis County law, and Utah Law you could not have any manufacturing. No outside storage of material or waste and no deliveries from trucks larger than 1.5 ton. I’ve checked with most of the city’s locally and they all seem to have the same type of law on their books.
Why do I bring this up?
If your cabinets, counter tops, furniture etc. Are being built in this environment; the company is most likely unlicensed. Again you can have an office but not a shop. Here is a scenario that has played out more than once. You pay your deposit. The company is in the production of your new cabinets. The city finds out that they are being produced illegally in their city. (Neighbors complain, drive by etc). They come in and shut down the company and you are out your money. What’s more scary is that the owner may go to jail under certain circumstances that I will get into in a minute.
We have gone in and finished many of these circumstances. It’s sad when a Customer has spent a chunk of money and now has to spend it again because of someone else’s ignorance.
Also we have found that due to not having the proper space to work, even with all the experience in the world. Most of these company’s do substandard work. I’ve seen many a client remiss about going with the lowest bidder hoping to beat the odds. In the end they spend more than the highest bid because of having to redo things.
Speaking of Quality. I am seeing more and more garage granite coming out to the job sites. Please beware of this. There is nothing like getting your granite tops installed to find that they were cut dry with a skill saw rather than wet with the proper saws. Cutting wet lubricates the blade and keeps from burning the granite. Also when its cut wet with a Beam or Track saw you get straight true lines. With a skill saw you get a wavy cut and typically if you look close enough there are saw marks in the polish.
The other next great thing to hit the market is Chinese granite. You hear the ads for ½ price granite. And Granite tops for less than the price of the slab. Sounds great till they get there and you see that they are cutting the sink hole on the front lawn. Again with a skill say and dry polished out. Then you have the issue of seams. We lost a bid to one of these companies. We installed the kitchen cabinets, but because our Granite bid was $300 more than this other company the homeowner chose to use them. In this kitchen we would have had 1 seam. Because of the way this company used prefab sections 4’ long they ended up with 12 seams. You are money ahead to use granite tiles rather than use this stuff. Besides the 12 seams there were 2-3 different color lots. Nothing like seeing color changes every 4 feet in your kitchen. They gave up a lot for $300.
Back to cabinets and furniture for a minute. If a Guy is building out of his garage then his environment is very dusty. It’s almost impossible to get a awesome finish with those circumstances. Besides the issue of the over spray and waste fumes have to go somewhere. Most of these guys are pumping it into the air out side of their homes. It’s toxic, dirty and illegal. The EPA has regulations on spraying for a reason. You wouldn’t want your kids breathing toxic fumes any more than you would want to breathe it. (If caught it is a massive fine as well as Jail time depending on what they can prove) Even if they beat the Jail time, the fines will put them out of business and your money will be lost.
I know a lot of Electricians, Plumbers and the like that use their garages for a storage unit to house their stock. That’s not as much of a concern to me. However it is nice to see a contractor that has invested in his company to have a shop of some sort. It tells me that he is in it for the long haul and not just for today.
Ok you have found a great guy that seems to have it altogether. His Company’s name is *Insert name* Handy man service. Just a word of warning. These guys can be licensed by the state but they can only have $1000 worth of work being performed at any one time. That INCLUDES material and labor. If they are working on your home for more than the $1000 cap or they are working multiple jobs then it’s a good bet that they are operating illegally. Real contractors have a million dollar liability policy and are typically licensed to do anywhere from 50k to a million dollars of work in the process.
What’s more a Handy man typically is a JACK of all trades and a MASTER of none.
Ok so now you have a little knowledge of how some contractors operate. How can you protect yourself? Realize that there is never absolute protection but you can definitely swing all risks in your favor.
1- Always check for licensing. I gave the web site above. Understand that anyone working in the Construction industry is a “Contractor” If you’re having a home built then you are looking for someone with a B100 license. If you’re doing a remodel that requires structural changes then You use a B100 or a R100 Contractor. NO one else is licensed to change your home structurally, legally. For all other remodels a R101 is legal. These three licenses are the ones that can pull your building permits with the various cities. A plumber can pull a plumbing permit. An electrician a electrical permit and so on. Now you plumber/electrician may have a R101 licensee. You can find that out through the web site listed above.
2-ALWAYS insist on a building Permit if you’re doing a big home remodel, a remodel that involves structural changes, Or if you’re not that comfortable with your contractor. It will cost you more for your project in both time and money. If your contractor refuses to pull a permit then you need to run.
3- There is nothing wrong with asking for certificates of insurance for both liability and workers comp. Your contractor should be very open and free with that information. We were bidding a project in Park City 2 years ago. The homeowner called for a meeting to discuss the project and give us our deposit check. While I was waiting for the meeting to start I noticed that NONE of the original group that was bidding on the project at the beginning was there. (We were all with a Interior Decorator out of Park City) After my time with the homeowner was over and all of the details were worked out. I asked about the lack of the original build team. The home owner informed us that we were the only Licensed and Insured contractors that were on the team. As a result they had fired the Interior Decorator and found their own licensed and insured Contractor and subs. Because we were proper in our dealings we were kept on to do the cabinet part of the project that we had bid. (As a result we did a couple more projects for the home owners as well)
4- Ask around. Have your friends, people at work, Church or local clubs ever used the contractor you’re looking for. Its amazing the amount of information you may find. Always Google the contractor in question. Both the company name as well as their own. You may find that the Company shows great but the persons own name comes up with undesirable information. Police records, news articles as well as references in others blogs might give you reason to pause. For instance, we were doing work for a couple of professional ladies a year ago. These two were having issues with a fencing contractor and were not sure what his issue was. I suggested they Google him and see if there was any info on him and they found a blog that he kept, detailing his hatred for gays, lesbians, and people of color. It amazed the hell out of me that someone with so much hatred was out servicing people’s homes.
5-Don’t hesitate to ask for references. Realizing that no one in their right mind would give a bad reference. But it’s good to know they have no issue in giving them.
6- Go to their shop. Do they have an investment in buildings, machinery etc. If a shop has a ton of new shiny equipment then you have to ask, Do they have an incredible over head with payments to support this? Or are they so profitable that they can afford it? Sadly it usually is the first. When the market had its drop, those shops with high overhead and payments were the first to go under. Those with some cash reserves held on and they are also falling by the waste side. I prefer to deal with shops that are running older fleets of Vehicles. Their equipment is older and they usually have a shop full. Rather than scrimping on equipment due to lack of money. And the owner doesn’t have a look of stress on him at all times. Why? Because the equipment and vehicles are typically paid off and his/her overhead is low, allowing them to run at a lower profit margin and survive the market.
7- Does the Contractor have years of experience under his/her belt or are they new to the field. You only need 5 years of working under a contractor to become one. By way of comparison an Electrician and plumber have 5-10 years of school and apprenticeship before they can be licensed.
8-Do they have a web site? If so do they have all pertinent information like Address? Phone number? Information about the company? Not having a web site is not a bad thing. Although I can’t imagine not having one in this day and age. But if there isn’t any information about where they are, how to get a hold of them (cell phones don’t count) or any back ground on them then you run the risk of them disappearing. I know of a couple companies that have issues with honesty, integrity, and just plain being good people. They all have web sites that look good but don’t give you any real information. One is a cabinet company that has moved around from address to address. I’m assuming due to issues with money but I don’t know for sure. I searched out this company for a client a year ago and found that even though they were conduction business they did not have a business license or a contractor’s license. The first was resolved at that time but the second one never has.
9- When in doubt don’t. I hear of too many homeowners. Women especially that are being pushed into doing something that they really don’t want to do. If your contractor is being pushy, trying to make you decide on something you don’t want to do or not allowing you to make the choices you want, then drop them. There are a lot of good Contractors out there. Don’t ever rush into something as expensive as a remodel without you getting what you’re after.
Hope that helps with your contractor decisions.