Let’s Talk About Contractors and Home Improvement

We’ve all watched those shows on HGTV or the DIY Network that show home renovations, kitchen remodels, etc. I’m personally a huge fan of Nicole Curtis, from Rehab Addict and of course This Old House — who doesn’t love Norm and Tom? I like both of these shows, because you see not only the materials and the labor that goes into redoing a home, but you see some of the mundane, like inspections/permits and the difference between quality work, and work that’s..subpar, let’s say. I’m also a big fan of Mike Holmes, since he specifically concentrates on redoing shoddy work performed on homes by dodgy contractors who swindle homeowners.

Unfortunately, we can’t all hire Nicole, Tom, Norm, or Mike. We need a local contractor — and choosing the right one can be a daunting task. How to go about doing this, and how to avoid being ripped off by someone not licensed will be discussed.

First, Do Your Research.

You’ve asked friends and neighbors for recommendations, so now you have a bunch of names. You could call and ask for estimates, and references. But how about taking just a few more steps to protect yourself before you end up with faulty wiring or exploding plumbing?

You want a licensed contractor. With a current license. How do you know whether he or she is licensed? Sure, you could go by the piece of paper they show you, or listen to their assurances, but you also need to verify. You can do that by searching the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) database:

Check to make sure the license is current, and the name and address of the company or person match what’s on their business card, website, etc.

Next you’ll want to make sure the contractor hasn’t been sued, or maybe you’re concerned that he or she has a criminal record and you’re about to allow them into your home. You can search the Maryland Judiciary by either the person’s name or their company name. Keep in mind, being sued or having a criminal record doesn’t necessarily preclude one from being a decent contractor. I’d be inclined to overlook someone’s petty theft charge from 20 years ago, or a lawsuit filed by a disgruntled customer who paid $1000 for a shed and didn’t receive the Taj Mahal they were expecting. Use your best judgement, as with any research tool, and ask questions of the contractor.

You’ll also want to independently research the company’s work history. Ask for addresses (not just photographs) of homes they worked on recently. Do a drive-by, if it’s exterior work and see how things are holding up. You’ll also want to see whether the contractor obtained permits for the work that was done — remember, no permits means no inspections. And no inspections can lead to dangerous conditions inside your home.

Second, Listen To Your Instincts

If your gut is telling you this guy is “off” or the bids sound a little too good to be true, walk away. Nothing is worth risking your home to someone that doesn’t feel right. If it’s not a good fit, keep going until you find the contractor you can trust. But please — don’t hire unlicensed contractors for large construction projects. Baltimore is full of them, and you have to make sure the people you’re allowing into your home aren’t there to rip you off or do shoddy work you’re going to be stuck replacing sooner rather than later. Your home is probably going to be your single-biggest financial investment — protect that investment and your family.