• Doing Your Homework Before Hiring a Contractor Will Save You Time, Money and Give You Peace of Mind

    The recent news headlines about contractors taking money from clients and not performing the work made me upset and feel great sadness for the victims. I am proud of my profession, but it only takes a few bad apples to give us all a bad name. The Home Builders Association of West Florida has spearheaded a meeting with Senator Doug Broxson and the pertinent agencies who deal with contractor licensing and investigations. The current system needs better communication and additional safeguards to prevent unscrupulous people from taking advantage of homeowners for a prolonged period of time before they are brought to justice.

    So how can you find a contractor you can trust? Hopefully, these tips can be helpful and give you the tools necessary to make a good decision in hiring a licensed contractor.

    • Make sure the contractor has a permanent business location and a good reputation with local banks, subcontractors and suppliers. Find out how long they have been in the building business.
    • Reputable contractors do not demand all the money up front. If a contractor insists that you pay a large deposit or the total bill before the work even starts, find someone else. A reasonable down payment can be made, up to 10 percent, but if it feels excessive to you, trust your instincts. Reputable contractors will have good credit and an account with their suppliers.
    • Make sure the contractor has workers’ compensation and general liability insurance. If not, you may be liable for any construction-related accidents on your premises.
    • Ask the contractor to provide you with references from previous customers. If they won't, beware. Ask the customers if they would hire the contractor again.
    • Be cautious of unusually low-priced bids. Keep in mind that less expensive does not necessarily mean better.
    • Always get at least three quotes and always get detailed estimates in writing. Be sure you receive details that included gray areas of the pricing specifics. Never accept a verbal agreement. In some fields it's impossible to perfectly estimate cost, especially if the contractor won't be able to get a better look at it until work has started, but it's reasonable to get an over-run percentage in writing where the contractor states that while the job may run over it won't be more than a fixed percentage of the estimate given to you.
    • A simple spreadsheet that lists things like materials, labor, and time estimates can help you easily compare apples to apples when you're reviewing quotes. Make sure to be consistent when talking to each contractor so that each set of quotes is the same in regard to the scope of work for what you want done and what materials you want to be used.
    • If any changes are made to your project, get the new changes in writing.
    • Professional contractors go to the county or state offices and get permits for their work themselves. Asking the homeowner to do it is a sign that they are not a legitimate contractor. Also, you can call the permitting office to see if a permit is pulled on your property. Florida law states: A contractor who receives, as initial payment, money totaling more than 10 percent of the contract price for repair, restoration, improvement, or construction to residential real property must: Apply for permits necessary to do work within 30 days after the date payment is made, except where the work does not require a permit under the applicable codes and ordinances, and start the work within 90 days after the date all necessary permits for work, if any, are issued.

    Get DBPR Mobile, a free smartphone app to search for state licenses by name or license number, enabling people to check instantaneously whether an individual has a business or professional license in Florida. Go to www.MyFloridaLicense.com. Or call the Escambia County Building Department (850) 595-3550. In Santa Rosa County (850) 981-7000.

    Chad Edgar, of Edcorp Custom Homebuilders, is President of the Home Builders Association of West Florida, a construction trade organization representing Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.