Checking a contractor’s background is an important step in choosing a contractor to work for you. This comprehensive guide outlines the key steps to vetting a contractor’s background, offering peace of mind, and ensuring a successful project outcome.
How deeply your check will likely depend on the amount and type of work you need to be done. A recommendation may be enough to hire a plumber for a small drain repair, but for an entire kitchen remodeling, you should do more to verify the contractor’s background before signing anything. A good way to verify someone’s background is by searching public records.
Step #1 Verifying Contractor Credentials
Before entrusting your home improvement project to a contractor, it’s essential to conduct a thorough check of their credentials.
Get the contractor’s full name, address, and license number. This information is usually provided on a business card or written estimate. If the contractor’s name is a fictitious business name, such as “A-1 Contractors,” either ask the person who gave you the card or call and get the name of the principal license holder for the company.
Step #2 Navigating State Licensing Agencies for Contractor Verification
Find the agency in your state responsible for licensing contractors.
In California, licensing is done through the Contractors State License Board, part of the Department of Consumer Affairs. In Arizona, it’s handled by the Registrar of Contractors.
Check with your state agency to verify the license status of the contractor and request information on any pending or prior disciplinary action against the contractor. Get this information over the phone, in person, or at the agency’s website. There are several websites that provide links to contractor licensing agencies in all states.
Step #3 Investigating Legal Histories
Search civil court records in your county to determine whether the contractor is or has been involved in any lawsuits, particularly those involving defective construction.
Civil lawsuits are public information, and all county courts maintain these records in the clerk’s office. You can search these records in the clerk’s office, or you may be able to locate them through the court’s website.
Step #4 Leveraging Better Business Bureau (BBB) Resources
Contact your local office of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and ask if there have been any complaints made against the contractor.
The BBB takes consumer complaints regarding any business, including a contractor, even if the business is not a member of or accredited by the BBB. In addition to contacting your local office, you can search for information about your contractor on the BBB website, which features a search engine that permits you to search its database for information about a business.
The Importance of Running a Background Check
Conducting a background check on a potential contractor is not merely a formality; it’s a critical measure to safeguard your investment and ensure the success of your home improvement project. This section delves into why running a thorough background check is indispensable when selecting a contractor for your project.
- Ensuring Professional Competence and Reliability: A comprehensive background check helps confirm the contractor’s professional qualifications and track record. By verifying their licensing, you’re ensuring that they have met the minimum standards set by the state for skill, knowledge, and experience in the field. This step is crucial for guaranteeing the quality and reliability of the work that will be carried out in your home.
- Legal and Financial Protection: Checking the legal history of a contractor, including any past or ongoing lawsuits, can reveal their business practices and propensity for disputes. A contractor with a history of legal issues, especially those related to construction defects or breaches of contract, maybe a risky choice. This aspect of the background check is essential for protecting yourself from potential legal and financial liabilities.
- Avoiding Scams and Fraudulent Practices: The home improvement industry, unfortunately, is not immune to scams and unscrupulous individuals. Verifying the contractor’s background helps you avoid falling prey to fraudulent practices. An unlicensed or disreputable contractor can leave you with substandard work, incomplete projects, or significant financial losses.
- Peace of Mind: Knowing that you have thoroughly vetted your contractor allows you to have peace of mind throughout the duration of the project. Trusting in their professionalism and legitimacy lets you focus on the exciting aspects of your home improvement project rather than worrying about potential mishaps or malpractices.
- Building a Positive Working Relationship: A background check can also serve as a foundation for building a good working relationship with your contractor. When both parties enter into a project with mutual trust and understanding, it often leads to better communication, smoother project management, and more satisfactory outcomes.
The importance of conducting a thorough background check on your potential contractor cannot be overstressed. It’s a crucial step that goes beyond mere caution, actively contributing to the success and satisfaction of your home improvement project. By ensuring your contractor’s credibility and reliability, you’re not just hiring a service; you’re investing in peace of mind and the assurance of quality workmanship.
Practical Tips and Cautions
- If your search of court records discloses that the contractor is currently involved in several lawsuits, you may want to avoid using him for a large project that requires a sizable initial payment.
- Most states require a contractor to be licensed in order to perform construction work of any significant value. If you use an unlicensed contractor and there is a problem with her work, the state licensing agency may not be able to assist you.
Conducting a comprehensive background check on a potential contractor is not just due diligence; it’s a vital step in protecting your investment in your home improvement project. By following these guidelines, you can select a contractor with confidence, ensuring a successful and stress-free project completion.