Homeowners often are asked to make important decisions without having the tools to do so. When hiring a contractor, they sometimes make price — instead of professionalism — a top priority. As a result, many homeowners go with a low bid from a less-qualified contractor who often is not licensed or insured. To grumble that the homeowner “should know better” doesn’t serve anyone — and doesn’t enhance the general public’s opinion of contractors.

Trust But Verify

To improve your odds of winning a bid, consider giving the gift of knowledge. Let potential customers know that although they are wise to obtain several quotes, they must also confirm that each contractor meets the state’s requirements for contracting. This is easily accomplished by using the Internet to access government websites. From contractor licensing to workers’ compensation insurance, homeowners can learn not only what is required of contractors but why it is important.

Additionally, these government websites contain databases that allow the public to verify a contractor’s compliance. Every homeowner should know that government databases are the most accurate means to verify a contractor’s professional license and workers’ comp insurance. If a contractor has been disciplined by a regulating authority, this information may also be viewable on government websites.

Explain & Demystify

Homeowners should also be aware of other criteria used to determine professionalism in our industry. Real pros don’t try to hide the finer points of contracting. Rather, they demystify the contracting process by explaining legalities to potential customers.

Contractors who educate prospects establish themselves as experts and keep homeowners out of trouble. Here’s the information I give to homeowners when submitting a bid.

  • States that require contractor licensing do not allow a licensed construction company to pull a permit for an unlicensed entity that has contracted directly with the homeowner. In short, an unlicensed tradesperson cannot do business under another person’s license.
  • Contracting with an individual in contrast to a business entity may require the homeowner to withhold payroll taxes and fulfill other obligations as an “employer.”
  • Consistency is king. All contracting documents such as the license, certificate of insurance, contracts, and checks should contain the name of the business entity.
  • Ensure that the contractor pulls a permit for the work as required by the building department. If a contractor asks the homeowner to pull the permit, it may signify that he or she does not meet the state’s requirements for contracting. Additionally, when the owner pulls the permit, he or she may assume additional responsibility and liability.
  • A homeowner may have no legal recourse if he or she does not follow the law.

Today, obtaining information is not as difficult as it was in the past — especially when an expert guides the way. If you step into the homeowners’ shoes, they will start off on the right foot and not trip up when the job is under way.
—Kia Ricchi is a Florida-licensed building contractor and author of Avoiding the Con in Construction, thecontractress.com.