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Before you hire that contractor

November 26, 2006|Michelle Hofmann | Special to The Times

Before you sign a contract or hand over a deposit for work, ask to see the contractor's license, and make a copy of it. California law requires anyone who contracts work valued at $500 or more to hold a valid license from the Contractors State License Board.

With this in mind, check the information with the board at, the Better Business Bureau and the local building inspector and ask if any complaints have been filed against the contractor.

The state doesn't require licensed contractors to carry general liability insurance, but find out whether they have coverage or are bonded, which could protect a homeowner against substandard work or damage.

Request a copy of the contractor's driver's license, and make sure the name and physical address on each document match. Also, validate documents and expiration dates with providers.

When reviewing bids, make sure each proposal is based on the same specifications and includes cost breakdowns for each part of the project and guarantees.

Make sure that the written contract outlines approximate start and completion dates, payment schedules, costs, material selections and the scope of the work; be sure it is signed.

And if something doesn't feel right, walk away. State law requires a contractor to give consumers written notice of the right to cancel a contact within three days of signing.

For large remodeling jobs involving multiple trades, contractors and individual subcontractors will often issue a conditional lien against a property to protect themselves from losses incurred if they're not paid.

To make sure each trade gets paid and releases those lien rights against the property, request a conditional release of lien upon payment.

To further avoid problems, pay individual parties for each segment of the work with a joint check made payable to the contractor and the subcontractor.

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