State of California

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Hire a licensed contractor for home improvements

Follow these suggested steps to make home improvements the safe way and protect your home and your money.

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    General Engineering Contractors and General Building Contractors usually manage subcontractors for a job.

    Specialty Contractors are often hired to do a single job, such as roofing or plumbing.

    Choose the type of contractor you need
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    You must get a building permit from your local building department for new construction, remodeling, or repairs.

    Check with your local building department
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    • Ask friends and family for contractors they’d recommend.
    • Search online and read reviews, but consider the source.
    • For repairs, your homeowners insurance might cover the cost and suggest contractors for you.

    Find licensed contractors in your city
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    Contractors must have a license to do work that costs $500 or more.

    To look up their licenses, you could:

    Call (800) 321-2752

    or Check your contractors’ licenses online
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    Compare your contractors’ costs for the same project.

    Beware of a price estimate that’s much lower than the others. They may do the job with cheap materials or poor quality of work.

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    You might be held responsible for workers’ injuries if your contractor doesn’t have the right insurance.

    Ask them to share the name of their insurance carrier or copies of both their:

    • Workers’ compensation insurance
    • General liability insurance

    Your homeowners insurance may or may not cover the costs of injuries. But your insurance provider should be able to help you check your contractor’s insurance.

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    Make sure your contractor has a current business address and phone number. If their work needs repair, you’ll want to be able to find them after you’ve paid the last bill.

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    Ask your contractor for the contact information of their former customers.

    Then, ask those customers if they were happy with your contractor’s project. And ask to see pictures, if possible. This will help you understand the quality of your contractor’s work.

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    When your contractor comes to your house, ask to see a copy of their pocket license. Compare it to their driver’s license or other photo ID.

    This helps you to be extra sure that your contractor is the right person.

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    A good contract includes how and when the work will be done, the materials used, and the total cost. It will protect you if you have a disagreement with your contractor.

    What to look for in your contract
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    By law, a contractor can’t charge you a downpayment of more than $1,000 or 10 percent of your total, whichever is less.

    And to protect your money, never pay in cash.