Does It Matter If a Contractor Isn’t Licensed?

Q:  Does it matter if a contractor isn’t licensed?  Can’t he do a good job one way or the other?

A:  Sure, he (or she) can.  A piece of paper does not a contractor make.

In fact, many states do not even license contractors.  Surprising, huh?  They may have licenses for specialized trades–electrical, asbestos removal, HVAC, plumbing, and so on–but not for contractors.  So, if you live in such a state, then obviously the contractor will not be licensed.

Not only that, but many homeowners believe that a contractor who is licensed and in good standing is a “good contractor.”  Not necessarily.  Being licensed–and not running afoul of the conditions of licensing–is just the bare minimum.  It just says:  This person is a contractor.  It is no reflection of his/her ability.

However, what if the contractor is not licensed?  Think about it.  What does this say?  He may have excuses (“Oh, I’ll get to it.” etc.), but this does not cut the mustard.  If the contractor cannot fulfill this bare minimum of licensure, you probably do not want to deal with this person.

Bottom line:  don’t go there.

Female Contractor

State General Contractor License Check

This is a list of sites where you can check on general contractor licensing.

Alabama

http://www.genconbd.state.al.us

Alaska

http://www.dced.state.ak.us/occ

Arizona

http://www.rc.state.az.us

Arkansas

http://www.state.ar.us/clb

California

http://www.cslb.ca.gov

Colorado

http://www.dora.state.co.us/registrations/index.htm

Connecticut

http://www.dcp.state.ct.us/licensing/

Delaware

http://www.state.de.us/revenue

District of Columbia

N/A

Florida

http://www.state.fl.us/dbpr/pro/cilb/cilb_index.shtml

Georgia

http://www.sos.state.ga.us/plb/construct

Hawaii

http://www.state.hi.us/dcca/pvl

Idaho

http://www.2.state.id.us/dbs/dbs_index.html

Illinois

http://www.dpr.state.il.us

Indiana

http://www.IN.gov/pla/

Iowa

http://www.iowaworkforce.org/labor/index.html

Kansas

http://www.ksrevenue.org/

Kentucky

http://hbc.ppr.ky.gov/

Louisiana

None

Maine

http://www.state.me.us/dep/index.shtml

Maryland

http://www.dllr.state.md.us

Construction Workers

Massachusetts

http://www.state.ma.us/bbrs/hic.htm

Michigan

http://www.michigan.gov/cis

Minnesota

http://www.state.mn.us/cgi-bin/portal/mn/jsp/home.do?agency=Commerce

Mississippi

http://www.msboc.state.ms.us/

Missouri

http://www.sos.state.mo.us/

Montana

http://erd.dli.state.mt.us/

Nebraska

http://www.dol.state.ne.us/

Nevada

http://nscb.state.nv.us/

New Hampshire

http://www.state.nh.us/sos/

New Jersey

http://www.state.nj.us/dca/index.html

New Mexico

http://www.rld.state.nm.us

New York

http://www.dos.state.ny.us/

North Carolina

http://www.nclbgc.org

North Dakota

http://www.state.nd.us/sec

Ohio

http://www.com.state.oh.us/ODOC/dic/dicocieb.htm

Oklahoma

http://oktax.state.ok.us/oktax/

Oregon

http://www.ccb.state.or.us

Pennsylvania

http://www.dgs.state.pa.us/

Rhode Island

http://www.crb.state.ri.us

South Carolina

http://www.llr.state.sc.us/POL/ResidentialBuilders/

South Dakota

http://www.state.sd.us/sos/sos.htm

Tennessee

http://www.state.tn.us/commerce/boards/contractors/index.html

Texas

http://www.license.state.tx.us/

Utah

http://www.commerce.state.ut.us

Vermont

http://www.sec.state.vt.us

Virginia

http://www.state.va.us/dpor/indexie.html

Washington

https://wws2.wa.gov/lni/bbip/contractor.asp

Wisconsin

http://www.commerce.state.wi.us/SB/SB-DivProgramsListed.html

Wyoming

http://wyofire.state.wy.us/

How to Save on Remodeling Costs

Saving on remodeling costs means following a few simple guidelines.

Build Up or In, Rather Than Out

Additions involve costly foundation work. If your existing house will take a second story, this is cheaper than building outward (and taking up more of your yard). Also, look for ways to build within the existing house. Are there little-used rooms that you can convert to another use?

Take Advantage of Free Consulting Services

Plenty of people want to “help” you. It’s all a ploy, of course, to get you to buy their services or products. But we’re all adults; we understand the situation. Use those Home Depot or Lowe’s kitchen planner people. They’ll work up a kitchen plan for you, even if you never intent to use them. Have those siding contractors estimate how many “squares” of siding you need.

Use Cash

Avoid additional mortgages and especially avoid taking out high-interest personal loans. Nothing is cheaper than cash–no interest, no late penalties, no fees.

Reduce Need for Contractors

Contractors charge 15% to 25% on top of the remodeling costs. This is very simple math. While you can’t entirely avoid the need for contractors, try to reduce your need. For example, you may use a contractor to build your addition. That’s fine. But don’t add on other things that are easy enough for a non-contractor to hire out. Things like building that brick patio and landscaping don’t need to be rolled into the contractor’s costs.

Don’t Move Plumbing

Moving plumbing will run up your costs in a hurry. If moving the plumbing is absolutely essential, then by all means do it. But search your heart and decide if your life will be improved by having the kitchen sink six feet to the left of where it is now.

Use Existing Electrical System

If the electrical system works and can handle the load, there is no need to replace it. Instead of abandoning existing electrical work, consider running new wires and adding onto it.

Avoid Doubling Your Living Expenses

Living in the house while doing work obviously saves money. But you also need to consider your sanity. It’s hell living in a house that’s being worked on. Got any relatives you can sponge off of?

Use Structural Elements as Surface Finishes

This depends on your decorating style. But if you can use unfinished ceiling beams, existing wooden floors, interior brick walls “as is,” or with a little clean-up, you’ve saved a considerable amount of money.

Do Your Own Work

Your own labor costs will always be cheaper than those of the plumber or the electrician.

Look for the One-Guy Operations

Avoid the big operations with their overhead, advertising, unemployment taxes, and sales commissions. Go for the one- or two-guy operations. They’ll work with you. Make sure they are licensed, though.

Questions to Ask the Remodeling Contractor

Ask these initial questions before signing anything with the home improvement contractor or general contractor:

1. Are you licensed or registered in my state?

At the very least, the contractors should be licensed/registered in states where this is required. Also, the contractor should have a clear record.

2. Do you “sub out” or do you have your own employees?

There is no right answer. Generally, contractors arrange for sub-contractors to perform the work. After all, this is why they are called contractors. However, some contractors may have employees and perform their own work.

3. How long have you been in business?

There is no right answer. A new firm cannot be faulted for being new. However, it makes it that much harder for you to check up on references.

4. How many projects similar to mine have you finished in the past year?

The important words are “similar to mine.” If the contractor will be renovating your kitchen, you want to see other kitchen renovations at a similar price level.

5. Do you think I will need permits for this job?

The contractor may not be able to give you a definite answer until he gets further into the job. But he should be able to give you an educated guess at this point.

6. If permit are needed for this job, will you follow through the permit process all the way?

Contractors earn their commission by performing this service. However, you will have to pay the permit fees.

7. Will you or someone else be the “point person” for my job?

8. Can I see three references?

Rather than just looking at pictures in a portfolio, you will want to see the work in person and speak to the homeowner without the contractor being present.

9. Do you have worker’s compensation and liability insurance and can you provide me with copies of same?

10. How much down payment do you want?

You should not put down more than 10% down payment. Fees for permits may be additional.

How to Lower Your Contractor Costs with Sweat Equity

Unless you’re as rich as a billionaire, you’ll be less than excited about paying those 18%-25% contractor commissions. Here are a few suggestions about ways to lower your contractor costs by doing some of the work yourself: otherwise known as sweat equity.

1. Tell; Don’t Ask Permission

The contractor doesn’t want you to do this because he will lose money. Gather your reserve and tell–don’t ask permission–the contractor that you intend to take on some of the work yourself.

2. Know Your Strengths and Limitations

Because you may be facing some opposition from the contractor, know for darn sure that you can do whatever you intend to do. Intend on wiring the whole kitchen yourself? Fine, but make sure you have done this before and can do it again within the structure of a timetable. For this reason, see the next step…

3. Do the Grunt Work Rather than the Work of Highly Experienced Pros

Unless you’re a licensed electrician or a highly experienced plumber or carpenter, you may want to take on grunt work. What’s grunt work? It’s stuff like demolition. It’s stuff like painting (though professional painters may beg to differ). It’s stuff like hauling junk out to the dump.

4. Supply Your Own Materials

The contractor may get upset if you say you want to supply everything–lumber, nails, screws, drywall, etc. And I would not recommend doing this. Let the contractor worry about these kinds of details. But it’s perfectly acceptable for you to supply things like cabinetry, flooring, fixtures, etc. This is a very simple way to save money. If the cabinetry costs $1,000, then the contractor will tack on up to $250 just for making that call to the supplier. You can do this yourself.

5. Spring it On the Contractor at the Last Minute

It may seem reasonable to let the contractor know as early as possible that you want to take on some of the work yourself. But look at it this way. If the contractor knows well in advance that he will be losing out on part of his commission, he may jack up other parts of his estimate. Even if he’s has no ill intentions, it’s a natural human response, and he may find himself doing this unconsciously. Get your figures firmly in place before you tell the contractor that you want to do this.

For instance: You want to know exactly how much the contractor wants to charge you for demo’ing the bathroom you want to remodel. Get that exact figure in place. Say, he wants to charge you $2000 for this service. Then, when you tell him that you will do this work, you can rightly expect your estimate to drop $2,000 and to stay dropped.

Where Do I Check to See If a Contractor Is Licensed?

Want to see if a home remodeling contractor is licensed at the state level?  You’re at the right place.

This list covers primarily the specific category of license called home remodeling contractor license.  This title differs from state to state.  For example, in some states it may be called a home improvement contractor license or home renovation contractor license.

In the event a state does not have this remodeling-specific license, you will need to check out general contractor licensing.

Licenses may be required for electricians, plumbers, HVAC, asbestos removers, and other sub-specialties.  Remember, this list covers only the state level.  Licenses may be required at the municipal or county level.

 

Alabama

Licensing Board for General Contractors

Alaska

Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development

Arizona

Registrar of Contractors

Arkansas

State Contractors Licensing Board

California

Contractors State License Board

Colorado

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Connecticut

Department of Consumer Protection

Delaware

Division of Revenue

Florida

Department of Business and Professional Regulation

Georgia

Secretary of State

Hawaii

Professional and Vocational Licensing

Idaho

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Illinois

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Indiana

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Iowa

Division of Labor

Kansas

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Kentucky

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Louisiana

Licensing Board for Contractors

Maine

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Maryland

Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing

Massachusetts

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Michigan

Department of Labor and Economic Growth

Minnesota

Department of Commerce

Mississippi

State Board of Contractors

Missouri

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Montana

Department of Labor and Industry

Registration optional if contractor has no employees.

Nebraska

Workforce Development

Required in counties of 100,000 or more.  Non-resident contractors need only register with Secretary of State and Department of Revenue.

Nevada

State Contractors Board

New Hampshire

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

New Jersey

Office of the Attorney General

New Mexico

Contractors Licensing Services

New York

New York City Department of Consumer Affairs

North Carolina

Licensing Board for General Contractors

Required only for jobs $30,000 or more.

North Dakota

Secretary of State

Required only for jobs $2,000 or more.

Ohio

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Oklahoma

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

However, non-resident contractors required to post a bond.

Oregon

Construction Contractors Board

Pennsylvania

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Rhode Island

Contractor’s Registration Board

South Carolina

Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation

Licensing required for jobs $200 or more.

South Dakota

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Tennessee

Department of Commerce and Insurance

Texas

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Utah

Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing

Vermont

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.

Virginia

Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation

Washington

State Department of Labor and Industries

West Virginia

Division of Labor

Wisconsin

Department of Commerce

Wyoming

General remodeling contractors not licensed by state.