How do I find out if my contractor is licensed and insured? The different states will have different requirements for contractors and tradesmen, but if they require a license for the specific kind of work, they will keep a list of all license holders at either state, municipality or city-level.
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Since the different states have such different license requirements, it’s impossible to accurately generalize, although there are some trends that are seen across most states. For example, plumbers and electricians are often licensed at state-level, while a lot of other trades are regulated and licensed at city-level.
On this page:
- Steps When You’re Validating a License
- They Need to Be Renewed
- Checking the Classifications and Making Sure They Match
- Screening a Contractor
- Questions to Ask When Hiring
If a trade is licensed at state-level in your state, you can often go online and check a contractors’ license. In other instances you will need to call the city’s building department and ask them, or find the full list of contractors that they may have posted on their website. When a specific state is regulated on a city-level, you can typically go to the building department’s section of a website to find the list of licensed contractors and what exactly those categories cover. Don’t be surprised if the specific section is difficult to find as the different cities have different ways of handling such requests. The easiest states to check contractor licenses in are typically the ones where most of this takes place on a state-level.
Use the navigation bar to the right to find the state that you live in and see the licensing information regarding the type of contractor you’re trying to work with. We have combined all the different licensing information you will need as well as contact information to contractor boards in the different states, whom you can contact for additional information. Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Connecticut and Oklahoma are the states people most frequently inquire about which is why we thought that conveniently providing you with the relevant license information might make it easier for you, assuming you’re actually looking for information specific to those states.
As soon as you start talking about projects worth more than a couple hundred dollars, most states start requiring that these contractors have licenses, insurance and show bond ability for situations where things go wrong between the pro and the homeowner.
Work done by a contractor will occasionally not live up to the expectations you have, and when that’s the case, your best chance is to reach out to the licensing board and asking what the normal procedure is in a situation like that.
When you contract with licensed contractors and something does not go according to plan, you are in a much stronger situation, especially since you could end up being held liable for worker accidents on sight for unlicensed contractors. If you start working with an unlicensed tradesman, and you’re pretty much on your own when something goes wrong.
A contractor should be proud to show you their license, workers’ compensation and insurance policies to ensure that you, as a homeowner feel safe contracting with them. Get a certificate of insurance from the insurance company showing that they have the insurance they claim to have, and that the policies are still active to this day. You can generally get such certificates without having to pay for them, and it will let you sleep more comfortably at night knowing all the work being done in your home is being done as per the required professional standards.
To continue your home improvement journey, read about the specific licensing requirements in your state or save money on your project by getting quotes from up to four contractors by going here.
Steps When You’re Validating a License
Given that the different states have different ways of handling this information, we can only generalize about the process without going into detail about every single state, which would end up being a lot more comprehensive than the extent of this intended article – again a reason to visit the exact page that applies to your specific situation.
When a contractor has provided you with a license number you may think that it’s enough to simply look it up to ensure that that license is still active, but that in itself does not suffice. What happens if you were in fact given a valid number, but while it may be valid, it’s not in fact the number of that specific business? You could have received a license number that was one for another business because the person that approached you knew that you would go online trying to look up the information, but counting on you not double checking if in fact that provided license was one registered to that person?
Yet another reason you want everything in writing is that they’ll be forced to put their business name on the contracts, and that name should also match the number that the license is registered with. It shouldn’t just be limited to what goes on a contract, but also the information that you have received, so if they have provided a phone number for you to contact them through, that should be consistent with what they have on their website and business cards that they have provided you with. Consistency throughout the provided information should be an indication that nothing sketchy is going on and that they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is and actually provide you with the correct information.
Making sure that their license is still valid should also be something you’re concerned about and make sure to check out the following section too.
They Need to Be Renewed
Is the license actually still active and approved? It’s a valid concern you’ll need to be focused on because you’re otherwise potentially hiring someone who might have previously been licensed to do the required work but who no longer is.
Did you know that a lot of states only issue licenses on a one year basis and that they therefore need to be renewed every single year? That means that the contractor you hired 5 years ago may in fact no longer be allowed to provided the desired work today. Hopefully he still is, but you get the point. It ideally means that you should be checking the validity of a license before any type of work is started.
One thing is that the license may not have been renewed correctly, but there’s another possible scenario too that could potentially be devastating. Another reason why a license may not be valid anymore is because it could have gotten revoked. If the licensing board has found that the contractor has either done something unethical or otherwise not lived up to the requirements, there’s the possibility of them revoking it all together. This would clearly indicate that a serious violation was likely to have taken place, and that you should steer clear of working with that contractor as a consequence.
Checking the Classifications and Making Sure They Match
One thing is to have a license, another thing is to have the correct one. If you’re needing someone to repair a roof leak, it doesn’t really matter if they have an electrical license because it’s not relevant. When you check the validity, make sure that it also covers the relevant category that you in fact need work in. Even within the right type of trade, some states will have differentiations between things such as commercial and residential projects, whereas some states may differentiate on the basis of the capacity of the unit or the size of the project, which is why it is so incredibly important for you to familiarize yourself with the relevant regulation.
Screening a Contractor
While proper licensure is important, it is definitely not the only important thing, and doing proper screening is important. One complaint we recently heard from a contractor was that he thought the only thing the license exams focused on was insurance and administration, highlighting that he wanted to have it focus more on the actual quality of the work to be performed.
It emphasizes a potential problem in the whole process that while it may be a lot of work to go through the process to acquire the license, the contractor you end up hiring should be capable of carrying out your exact project and with quality in mind, which is why we’ll just walk you through how you can screen the quality of the work that a contractor is able to provide to you.
Hiring the right contractor for your project should not be hard, although unfortunately too many people end up regretting their choice of company. It’s a rather personal choice since you’re basically letting another person into your home, often when you’re not even around. You wouldn’t simply let someone into your house if they knocked on your door, why should it be any different with contractors? They will come inside and get an understanding of what type of life you have at home and where you live. And it’s not even just the person you hire, but also the people that come along, such as subcontractors, which is why you want to be able to trust the judgement of that person.
Hiring the right contractor is a match-making process and you should be doing your homework to ensure it’s the right one. They need the right mixture of trustworthiness and experience, and other possible values that you value dearly.
You should have a solid understanding of the license requirements before hiring anyone, and if using the information in this article doesn’t suffice in finding the relevant information, you should reach out to your local building department or association.
Ask the contractor about their hiring processes when it comes to hiring subcontractors and hear if the people they intend on working with are ones that they have already previously worked with. Ask them if they conduct background checks on them.
Make sure to ask for references, and don’t skimp on actually calling those references to hear what they have to say about working with the contractor. Did they manage to stay within budget? Did they finish the project in accordance with the deadline that was set? Did they feel that the whole process went down professionally?
While people are more prone to leaving poor reviews online, contractors should mostly have good reviews online, and when you look their company up on their various associated online profiles, you should be getting the impression that people had a good time while working with them too.
Contractors should also not be opposed to accepting a background check. Letting some stranger into your house requires a lot of trust, and it’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to do so with someone who has a history of stealing.
Questions to Ask When Hiring
During the screening process, you will want to make sure to discuss all the different aspects of the project with the given contractor so that they fully understand all the little details. What that means is that they should be curious to ask you more questions if anything is unclear. While the scope of a plumbing leak could be quite straight forward, the complexities of a home addition are less so. With an addition, there’s a bunch of small details that can otherwise easily be missed such as the finishing. If you fail to get it in the contract, it might not end up actually being included in the quote, and therefore you may have a different expectation of what you’re paying for versus what the contractor believes he will be doing for you.
Besides the contractor asking questions, you should also be asking the contractor a lot of questions. While you probably won’t need to ask all the questions when you’re having something small done, it can be a good list to have in the back of your mind when your remodeling a bathroom. Here are the most important questions that you can consider asking too, even for smaller projects. Hopefully the first one should not come as a surprise to you.
- Do you have the necessary licenses for the project? And what is your license information so that I can make sure it is valid and covers the right classifications?
This should need no further explanation, so we’ll head straight to the following question.
- Do you carry the necessary insurance to do the work, so that I will not end up liable in a situation where something goes wrong? Also, can you please show me proof of your insurance so I can make sure that it’s still valid?
The insurance is really, really important, and you will want it because you don’t want to be liable in the situation where someone gets injured on the job. General liability insurance is the absolute least that is required, but it’s very likely that they will need additional insurance that you can read about on the pages of the individual states. You also want to verify its validity as you would with the license itself.
- What is the timeline for this project, when can you get started and when will it be completed?
One of the main complaints among homeowners is that their home improvement project is taking significantly longer than they had anticipated, so it’s always a good idea to be upfront about your expectations for when you imagine the project is done, and hearing if that fits with the schedule that the contractor had in mind also. If the contractor already knows that he’ll be busy for the next month, and it’s very important for you to have it done before that, a good contractor will suggest you a different company, one that they’re familiar with whom they know delivers good work also, rather than simply starting a project up that they know will end up in a lot of frustration.
- Are we going to sign a written agreement for this project?
Oral contracts are luckily legally binding in a lot of states, but that doesn’t mean that they’re in fact easily enforceable and should it ever come to a situation where you end up in court of disagreements, you will thank yourself for having everything in writing since it will make the burden of proof a lot easier too. Any agreement when it comes to important aspects of the contract should be included in writing, which means payment terms, delivery dates and more.
- Are you taking care of the inspections and permits, and is the cost of those two things included in the price of the quote?
Who is supposed to pay those couple of hundred dollars it will cost to get everything properly permitted and inspected along the way? Whether or not it’s you or the contractor does not matter for as long as you’re aware of the expected out of pocket costs you will incur. It’s also a good question to ask just because it shows that the contractor is on top of the necessary permits that will be required. You don’t want to have a bathroom remodel made simply to find out that none of the plumbing was inspected along the way and that you now need to rip out the drywall to get the necessary licenses to make the installation legal.
- What policy do you operate with when it comes to cleaning up after yourself?
If the work is being done in a part of the house that you won’t be accessing on a daily basis, you might not mind too much if they vacuum each day to make sure that it’s ready for you to use, but you don’t want building materials to be left in the living room after the contractors go home so that you’re unable to use the space throughout the period of time it will take for them to get the work done. The most important aspect about this question is that you have made sure that you and the contractor have the same expectations when it comes to the needed cleanliness.
- What’s the easiest way to stay in contact if you’re not going to be at the construction site every day.
For larger projects, there should be a general contractor that will be handling the day to day operations. In any case, you will want to make sure that it’s obvious who you should be turning to if there’s ever a question or concern. It’s also always a good idea to actually find out how often your contact person will be on site. While it shouldn’t be necessary that they’re on site every day, you want to make sure the project progresses seamlessly, and asking that question will also make you seem better prepared since it signals to the contractor that you’re not just hiring the first contractor you see.
- What experience do you have with similar projects?
A roofing contractor might have a lot of experience with metal roofs but very little experience with flat roofs. Their installation is different and while we won’t rule out that a lot of contractors are definitely capable of handling both types of projects, certain situations require that you get someone who specializes in a specific type of project, and you’d rather not have a generalist. It’s also always a good idea to actually see pictures of the work that they have done, because if they have previously done the work, they will likely have pictures of it too. If they haven’t done a project but claim to have done it, asking for pictures should likely cause them to become a little bit nervous.
- What sort of warranty do you offer on the work you do?
Whether the work performed is for siding installation or a sump pump repair, shouldn’t matter. They should believe enough in their work that they should be willing to offer satisfactory warranties on the work that they do. Those are probably the most important questions to ask, although we still encourage you to go through the entire list.
We hope this article has helped you shed some light on how to actually find out if a contractor has the license they claim to have, as well as the necessary insurance, and how to check out both of those things, or at least give you a better understanding of the direction that you should be heading in to get the right answers to all your questions.