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Hiring a Contractor - What you should know

How to hire an honest, reputable contractor.  Palm Builders wants you to have all of the information you need to make an informed decision.

Having work done to your home, from simple repairs to major projects, can be frustrating and costly.  The best way to make the experience as painless as possible is to do your homework first and shop around before hiring a contractor or signing a contract. 

With help from the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, Pinellas County Justice and Consumer Services, and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, here are tips on hiring a contractor.

Though Florida has many honest, capable contractors, it also has some who are not and, unfortunately, their victims are often homeowners that have not thoroughly checked the contractor’s credentials.

The experts say that following these guidelines can help you tell the good guys from the bad:

1.  Get recommendations from your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.  Ask for and check references, and do not be pressured into making a quick decision.

2.  Make sure that contracts and business cards include a physical address, phone number and contractor license number.

3.  Ask to see the contractor’s license.  Licenses awarded by the state or county come with a wallet card.  Ask for additional identification if necessary.  Make sure the license is current.  By law, the license number must be displayed on the contractor’s vehicle, business card and contract.

Bay area building associations can also be good sources of information.  Contact NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) at 727-578-2207.

4.  Avoid contractors who ask you to get permits.  You are responsible for code violations if you pull permits for unlicensed contractors.  Plus, you may be prosecuted and fined for aiding and abetting an unlicensed activity.  Avoid contractors who tell you that permits are not required for major repairs.

Because an unlicensed contractor may not have workers’ compensation and liability insurance, and because homeowner insurance policies do not generally include this kind of coverage, a worker can sue you if he is hurt on your job.

5.  Find out under whose name the company is licensed.  A licensed contractor is permitted by law to qualify additional businesses.  Licensed contractors do not always supervise the work of the companies they qualify. 

6.  The lowest bid does not always mean the least expensive.  Be cautious of constant change orders.  Lower bids can indicate failing to pull permits, cutting corners on work force and materials, ignoring follow-up work and failing to have workers’ compensation insurance.

7.  Ask for a detailed written estimate that includes material specifications, approximately how long the job will take and the total cost.  Get more than one bid.  Two to three is normal.

8.  Read and understand the contract.  Make sure it includes name, address and professional license number, all work to be done, warranties for labor and material, and terms of payment.  Check for nonrefundable deposits or non-escrow accounts.  If subcontractors are working on your job, be sure they are licensed properly.

9.  Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces.

10.  Insist on a certificate of insurance which should be provided for free.  It should include the following:  names and addresses of the insurance carrier, the insurance agency, the contractor and you; liability and workers’ compensation limits; and expiration date.

11.  Make sure that all necessary permits have been pulled.

12.  Do not provide large deposits before the work begins.  If a permit was pulled, make sure the work is inspected and approved by the issuing authority and that it meets all building codes, and get a contractor’s affidavit indicating that all subcontractors and material suppliers have been paid before making a final payment.

13.  Ask your contractor for a legal “Release of Lien” for the subcontractors and suppliers.

14.  If you are happy with a company, let everyone know.  If not, send a written complaint to:  DBPR Customer Contact Center, 1940 N. Monroe St., Tallahassee, FL   32399-1027.

15.  If the work was made necessary by a disaster such as a hurricane, remember that it is unlawful in Florida to charge exorbitant prices for essential items, including food, ice, generators and lumber once a disaster has been declared.  It is a third-degree felony to contract without a license during a state of emergency.

For more information or to contact Palm Builders Suncoast, Inc. please click here.