How Unlicensed Contractors Can Cost You

Leave a Comment - 86


Douglas Troupe

Subject: Unlicensed, Inexperienced And Unprofessional

Unfortunately, there are several individuals out there who are working as locksmiths but are not licensed. Most of the time these unlicensed, inexperienced and unprofessional locksmiths are simply trying to earn as much money as possible and therefore will give harmful and misguided advice.

Ron Davidson

Subject: Unlicensed People Making Professionals Obsolete

Recently I sent this letter to DORA Denver (Department of Regulatory Agencies) To which I got no reply:

To whom it may concern,

My name is Ron Davidson, I am a Colorado licensed Master Electrician and Contractor. I have in the past few years and this year most frequently been contacted over and over by individuals who have either performed electrical work without a license, and or permit or have hired someone who has performed such work. More recently I have been contacted by individuals who have had entire houses worked on (fix and flips) where all aspects of construction were performed by unlicensed persons (in one case in particular the whole house was to be re-constructed by one individual who informed me he recently moved to Denver from Mexico City and was being paid $10,000 to remodel the entire house, he was engaged in replacing all of the waste water plumbing at the time and I was asked to instruct him on Electrical upgrades that were needed. Recently I was asked to repair some electrical work that was performed by a so called professional and when I examined the work it was clear to me this person was not a licensed professional. This too was a “fix and flip” and all of the work performed was in my opinion “shoddy" (or performed in and un-workmanlike fashion). Of course upon further inquiry I discovered that no permits had been pulled (this seems to be a common theme) and that the individuals hired by the so called “contractor” were not licensed in their designated trades.

I mention all of this because I am curious to know what, if anything is being done about this type of situation as it is clearly a problem here in Colorado, particularly in the Denver metro area. I am also concerned because I believe it may be having a negative impact on my profession as well as others (such as plumbing and heating) for several reasons, one being that we cannot compete financially with these individuals and two this shoddy work is a serious risk to the future owner of said property, not to mention the impact this may have on the economic future of Colorado.

It is my opinion that there should be (if there is not already) legislation (and enforcement of such) in place that does something to rectify this situation. I have done a fair amount of research online and have found nothing that suggests something is being done about it, which is why I have written this letter.

As for my personal encounters: I generally give the owner an assessment of the issues, inform them that I want nothing to do with it (It’s my understanding that if I do I am then responsible for any issues that may arise in the future whether I did the work or not) and that they should find someone who is willing and licensed to do so. I would also like to mention that the quality of much of this work is so shoddy that in some instances I perceive a possible fire hazard as I have witnessed open splices in walls, wire run in walls without cabling or conduit, improper sizing of breakers, no grounding of equipment etc…

In my opinion (and that of many of my fellow tradesmen) this is a serious issue which needs to be rectified. This situation seems to be so out of hand that I often find myself questioning why I even bother to stay in the trade at all. When a person who has none of the experience and has not taken the necessary (and often very difficult) steps to become a licensed professional can work in the same industry and reap all of the financial benefits without any of the accountability then it is a sad condition of the system indeed.

Thank you for your consideration.



Subject: Licensing isn't the problem - Its the workman's comp!

The huge problem is with the LICENSED contractors who are not paying their workman's compensation insurance. And guess what?
If they aren't paying workman's comp, they can't run a legitimate payroll because the payroll reports require you to explain what your employees are doing.
If you are not running a payroll they you are paying your people cash "under-the-table" and claiming you are the only person in the company to the authorities (which avoids workman's comp).

If you are not paying and therefore reporting a real payroll, then you can't deduct those costs from your business taxes. Therefore, you could not report your actual income because your net income (missing payroll expenses because of the above) would make it look like you were making a killing and therefore have a huge tax liability.

Therefore, you are not reporting your actual business income or expenses.

In short, THE WHOLE DARNED THING is a sham! And this is being done by "experienced professionals" that have been working for many years, have a wife & kids, lots of good references, go to church, etc.

THIS RAMPANT problem is supported by homeowners who don't care if they are completely legit - they just want a better price.

For honest contractors like me, our days are numbered. While we are under bid by dishonest (but licensed) contractors, our employees are leaving to go get paid cash so they don't have to pay taxes either.

The problem has always existed but went into hyperdrive during the recession and now it seems to be rocketing off while they all get richer and richer and the honest guys are run out of business.

The state regulators ought to jail the homeowners who don't prove they actually checked on who they hired. If the market for dirty business dried up, there would be no need to supply it.
Its sort of like river dumping: everything seems fine at first but eventually everything dies. Homeowners will get their comeuppance one of these days. Meanwhile, we're screwed.

Jeff Foster

Subject: Hiring Unlicensed Contractors

Response to "State regulators ought to jail homeowners who hire unlicensed contractors"
What a load of crap!!! Yes let's have the government control every single aspect of everyone's lives....
I guess I don't own my own home, the government and unhappy business people do.

jd von Logan

Subject: Licensed unlicensed

Its good to have the license if you dont mind paying for it. But yes you dont need it if you have the references to prove you do good work. I worked for over 30 years without a license, built many 100's of homes and apts, medical centers, doctors offices all over southern and northern california, never had a complaint. Always had insurance coverage and treated my clients homeowners with respect, in fact most of work for the past 15 years have been with repeat clients. Guess what though, I did recently pass the state General contractors(B) Licensed, just for fun

Ric DeVan

Subject: licensed contractor

Licensing is a joke. I've read it over and over in the above articles and comments and I've recently experienced it first hand. The "licensed" contractor I hired, a family "friend," proceeded to do a major bathroom remodel without benefit of permits. He never even brought up the subject of permits. Then he wanted to remodel the kitchen. We agreed on a price and he asked if I wanted to get permits. I asked him, "Do I need a permit for this work?" He said "No, since we are not moving a bearing wall." Well, the work is done, it looks great but closer inspection reveals some flaws. Worst of all, it not only doesn't meet code, permits are required for the work already done. What now? Is the city going to make us tear out the work, get permits, and start over? The really sad part is the contractor STILL doesn't believe that his and his sub's work doesn't meet code. Having a license is no guarantee that the work will be done right the first time, or even that it will ever be done right.

Michael Kallis

Subject: Licensed Contractor

I doubt he was licensed and if he was, he probably was not licensed appropriately for the work he was doing. I run across this frequently. We are appropriately licensed for the work we do (Class A BLD), carry the appropriate insurance, pull permits, use licensed specialty trade contractors, and pay our employees competitive wages as well as pay all the taxes we are required to pay.

I am frequently underbid by improperly licensed, unlicensed, and those who present fake licenses to uninformed homeowners. Those of us who are legit do not have much variance in cost when competing against each other. In most cases on large projects it is a couple hundred dollars one way or the other. These hacks will offer prices of half what it costs legitimate companies to do them. Often they do not want to deal with inspectors, mostly because when caught working out of the proper license class and type they will stop the job and report them to the appropriate authorities. The homeowner can be held responsible as well in some situations. Homeowners need to be diligent about researching the laws, regulations, and liabilities they face when hiring these people. If they where then these guys would go out of business (not that they run legitimately anyway). If you have questions you can call your state licensing authority and your homeowners insurance company.


Subject: licensing

For those who think licensing is stealing and a tax, I say youre delusional. Do you really want someone blundering with your wiring or plumbing? It's your first line of protection. Ever notice how builldings in Mexico pancake from earthquakes? Corrupt building practices is the reason. Shortcuts, etc. You can get a licensed contractor and still find bargains too. Conversely, you can pay a high price to a hack.

Ric DeVan

Subject: licensing

True. But hiring a licensed contractor is no guarantee that the work will be done to code. In my case, the licensed contractor didn't even bother to check the code changes OR get permits. I'm now stuck with an expensive kitchen and bath remodel that was not permitted, not inspected, and doesn't meet code. Even I can read the building rules and regulations and realized, too late, that the electrical and plumbing absolutely required permits and inspections.

Patrick Voluntaryist

Subject: Licensing is a Tax

It is nothing more than a tax. We have a license, have for 17 years, but it is no guarantee of anything and unfortunately, it is sold as and perceived by many people as some sort of consumer protection or job oversights "service" provided by government. It is not. It is nothing more than a tax and taxes are just legitimized theft. Start calling it what it is; licensing is stealing.


Subject: unlicensed contractors

I am a licensed contractor in the HVAC field. But I love it when people talk about the unlicensed contractor situation. First of all Having a licensed contractor do your work, does not mean you're going to get a good job, it does not mean that they're going to be honest, it does not mean that they are competent. I will give you an example. In Texas, there a HVAC service companies, that are owned by people who have not even actually work in the field. But somehow were able to take the exam. Granted You definitely want somebody who is insured, but some of these guys moonlight, that the licensed companies call hacks, work during the day, for these companies, who are calling them hacks. So I guess that when a licensed contractor, who a lot of times since someone else to do the work, is sending that same
unlicensed hack to come work on your équipement. Kind of weird aint. Like in this post, where the woman said an unlicensed inspector missed something during inspection, I guess they're saying that a licensed contractor wo it by no means, it insures you're going to get what you can foruld never miss anything. I think that a lot of these industries Need to do a better job of pleasing the Unethical Business practices By the sometimes licensed contractors. Again like I said I carry my license and insurance And have put my time and sweat into the field. And no like I said I do agree with the licensing & insurance,


Subject: Feel good

I see a lot of people hear agreeing that ultimately your references and attention of detail is the best measure and a license is a piece of paid paper.


Why don't you now band together and protest for your right to transact business voluntarily with those who wish to transact with you absent government intervention. You won't protest, though because it takes too much work.


Subject: I have been doing this almost

I have been doing this almost 20 years as I started into Missouri(no license required for contractor) Moved to Maryland in 2008(license required) I do not have my license as its just bs! I know what I’m doing and done it for 15 years in Missouri without one problem. I been here going on 4 years working dc, VA, and Md and not one problem just continuous positive reviews. I have soldered copper pipe(I use commonsense by misting area with water, laying flame retardant cloth behind it and carry an extinguisher beside me) and never had a problem. I had a few people ask about license and I tell them basically what Ellis and John says that a license is nothing but a piece of paper you pay for and has nothing to do with your skill level. The test is about how to pay your taxes and where to pay them, THATS ALL THEY CARE ABOUT. This straight from people I worked with that actually taken and passed the test. And they tell me all the time about how it’s hard to compete because they have to pass that cost on and the quality of work is no different than mine. I work for real-estate agents, companies, residential and some commercial work with no license and I don’t feel a damn bit guilty about it. I'll gladly sign an injury waiver, I guarantee all warranty work in writing, and I have my insurance(and yes it covers anything I do regardless what you say(i had people challenge it, but I verified straight from my insurance company and they know the whole story) So bottom line people.....just use commonsense and check them out. I always tell every job prospect to Google me then Google their other bids. You can find me everywhere with no bad reviews, that’s the only piece of mind you need. I got the book and looked it over and its open book test, It’s got to be freakin easy to pass but just the principal of matter I really don’t want to. Got to get bonded, got to pay registration fee to the testing company, I got to pay Maryland’s license fee, I have to submit a credit report(REALLY!! A credit report?? Your telling me I’m a bad person if I have bad credit?) I will be getting my license eventually.. But only because of psychological reasons, some people feel "safer/confident" with it. It’s just like the BBB, ANYONE can pay to become a member, but dumbfounded people still abide by it. I’ll just up the price for the same warranty/same work. But to still service those who want to save money, I’ll have subs/people that will take care of them and still make money. No different do you want the iPhone or android, does the same thing except you’re paying for the iPhone hype. Ellis said it best and sounds soooo much like all the arguments I had with contractors over the years about this issue. Only Licensed contractors will argue these points because they want the business. There should be no reason why I cannot pull a permit(pay for it and mind you the lost revenue of jobs I do that I don’t pull a permit) and still be ok why.. because whether your licensed OR NOT!!! IT HAS TO BE INSPECTED!!! So it comes down to the inspector not wanting to be responsible for his job(another overpaid government worker) Got a simple solution, Don’t charge for test, don’t charge all these reoccurring fees(and initial fees themselves) and although I still would think it would be pointless, I would apply for the license resulting in increased revenue and safety measures via permits. But they won’t because they want that yearly revenue, it has nothing to do with safety as I mentioned if it did they would make it where its easy to inspect all work, whether homeowner/licensed/or unlicensed. Oh yeh Ironically I have been nominated/reviewed and recommended by customers to Angies List several times



I agree that licensing is very often used just for revenue raising in counties. I am a graphic designer, and yes I have a license, but I absolutely did not have to prove that I knew anything about my profession. The county where I operate just wants a percentage of my business gross as a tax, plain and simple.

Here in Georgia, someone who cuts your hair is required to have thousands of hours work experience, and has to take a test to get a license, but anyone can be a contractor or sub-contractor. As far as I know, no one has died from a bad haircut, but if an electrician has a license, but not the knowledge of experience to go with it, someone can get hurt or worse. While I am all for free enterprise and reducing the barriers to someone getting into business, it seems that the concept of licensing is terribly inconsistent. Do I want my profession licensed in a way that professionals have to take a test and/or prove they know what they are doing? Why not . . . it would keep a lot of unprofessional designers out the business potentially. Would this mean more government and higher taxes to pay for it? Probably. Will licensing prevent people from mis-representing themselves and what they can and can not do? No. As I tell all my potential clients . . . check my references and talk to the people who have worked with me.


Subject: Graphic design license?

That is a first for me...I have never heard of a professional license being required for a Graphic Designer. Professions such as Contractors, Architects, Interior designers, Painters, Electricians, Plumbers, yes...but NEVER for a Graphic Designer! I know you are working in Georgia, but how on earth can it be so different there that they require a license to be a Graphic Designer???
Can I just assume that you are referring to the requirement for getting a Business License from your city allowing you to do business in that city? If so, that is a Business License, and not a professional license, and you are correct that you don't need to prove any knowledge of your profession before acquiring a Business License.



Horror stories abound. I hired a licensed contractor to build carports. He hired people hanging around a Walmart parking lot. One of the workers was a friend so we hired the contractor. He reduced the size of the carports then I hear he had all kinds of complaints about him. I didn't check because he was a friend. Bad news. if they dont have property damage insurance you dont want them. but being licensed is not a guarantee. I know retired contractors who do great work and save us money. Always have the materials billed to you not the contractor. Then you know they are paid. Plus make sure the workers are paid before you pay the contractor.



You are exactly right and full of sh#@ all at the same time. While there are tons of licensed contractors around that do garbage work, and yes, the homeowner can act as a contractor - who's paying the taxes? Show me one homeowner who filled out their 941 federal tax withholding on their un-licensed subs. Did they file state taxes? How about FICA? If the homeowner had more than three guys at any one time or employed someone for more than thirteen weeks they are required to pay workmans' comp too. What about the liability? Did you inform your homeowner that if you fall from YOUR ladder that you can and will sue them, (you have a c5 fracture and can only scratch your shoulders with a straw in your mouth) did the homeowner have a ladder safety program in force? How about the paint thinner you are using? Is the homeowner responsible for the MSDS's and fines if the state inspector shows up?
Your editorial about being a pro just proves to the real pro's how amature you really are.
And don't get me started about the homeownerss that will whine on angies list and give out just a fraction of the story so the reader says " oh you poor dear..." w/o the benefit of the other side of the story. I have been a GC since 92 here in MI (yes the state of MI doesn't do crap about un-licensed contractors - just want your money) and have just about had my fill of the crabby get-out-of-bed-at-noon retirees that come home after little ceasars messed up their order and you are the first person they can blast.



Some of that goes on here too. Unlicensed "contractors" definitely have an advantage when it comes to dealing with city hall. Unless some of the illegal actions become a felony that will remain as is. I'm not suggesting that's a good idea.



I agreed with you until I found out they (at least the State of Michigan) don't enforce the laws that they make :(



I disagree that licensing is just another revenue source for the government. We have many unincorporated areas around my town and the wiring I find there is beyond belief. It's bad enough in town but in the sticks it's a joke. Licensing and inspecting serves an important purpose which is public safety.

The laws include insurance requirements and bonding, very important protections for the consumer.

That the system is imperfect is a problem but the wiring is better in town than in the sticks.



After a very hard and expensive lesson, I agree with you and Kelly that it depends on who you are dealing with and that having a license doesn't really prove that they are qualified. I was informed by my lawyer (for a civil suit) that the prosecutors rarely will go after someone who isn't licensed, so having a license is just another way for the states to take in money. My neighbor, who is not licensed, has been doing many of the repairs needed to my house from work done by my "fraudulent" licensed contractor. I would have been in good shape if I would have hired him in the first place....unlicensed and all!! So many of you have such good advice...alas..I had not heard of Angie's List too late.



It boils down to the integrity of who you are dealing with. That is the ultimate determinate. You are more likely to get what you need with a licensed tradesman. He's more likely to have the required experience and know how. A licensed tradesman will be governed by law than the unlicensed person is but it boils down to who the person is. I was unlicensed when I started out in my hometown but I did good work, adhered to code, and backed up what I did. This is generally not the case with unlicensed people here and is no guarantee with licensed people either



Dear Steve,

Thank you for providing a perfect example of what I was talking about in my first post: a licensed contractor spreading wrong information. What I wrote is not "misinformation" I made it clear in my first post that I was speaking about Texas and California, and I stand by what I said. You don't have to take my word for it, you can take Texas and California's own word for it:

From the California State Licensing Board website:
"What is an owner/builder? An owner/builder is what the term indicates. The person owns the property and acts as their own general contractor on the job and either does the work themselves or has employees (or subcontractors) working on the project."

For Texas, go to the "Statutes" page on the Texas Residential Construction Commision (TRCC) website, and read the same basic thing as for California.

There is absolutely no requirement in either Texas of California that the owner do a single bit of work themselves. They can act as the general contractor (which means they show up for 15 minutes every few days, walk around with cup of coffee in hand, and then leave. -ha-ha!)

By the way, the TRCC has just been dissolved in Texas because of a huge corruption scandal. Evidently the TRCC was being influenced by *licensed builders* who were doing really horrible work. When homeowners sought recourse for the bad work through the TRCC, the TRCC kept siding with the builders. This forced the homeowners (those who could afford a lawyer anyway) to bring a lawsuit against the builders to get justice. This happened to thousands of people, and is yet another proof that "licensed builder" does NOT automatically equal "good work". It also shows that Licensing boards are susceptible to corruption and influence by the very industry they are supposed to regulate.

Good luck to all...



Steve, The states may have these requirements but they actually don't enforce them. In the case where I was just screwed over by a man "pretending" to be licensed, he told me that I needed to have the permit in my name so that my father, who is a retired electrician of 40+ years, could do the wiring. I believed him and signed the permit, but the so-called contractor went to my village hall and pulled the permit in my name himself and wrote the check for it with his business check. I got the prosecutor to arrest him but because the permit was in my name, they dropped the charges to minimal and basically this man walked away. My point is, many states may require it, but small towns may not follow the law. See article:



Ellis, In response to your statement regarding the homeowner being able to pull their own permits? I don't know where you got your info but according to the ICC homeowners must sign an affidavit stating they are doing, --- "actually doing" 60% of the work. They could hire you to be their helper though... Those States both have dollar limitations and a "handyman clause" in the State laws allowing a handyman to do 1200 dollars worth of work (Labor + Materials = Work)without being licensed. I would really be careful about passing out misinformation, you might start to believe it yourself.



Because a tradesman is licensed does not insure he is any good, especially in my city, but I see a huge number of "tradesmen" working who could never pass their test.

An advantage to licensing is the tradesman must purchase a bond to pay for his unfinished or sub-standard repairs. But this only applies if a permit is pulled.

fred cahill


Some of the contractors will want the money before the job is complete. They will come and do a little then you have to hunt them down.they dont get a building premit it brings the city in toit.



After 41 years as a carpenter, builder, and contractor I and having held licenses in various states and complying with state laws where I worked, I have come to the conclusion that a license is mostly about control by the state or local governments to raise revenue and create work at the expense of the contractor and customer. I have hired many licensed subcontractors but only after I have checked references and seen the work they do. I have hired more non licensed tradesman who have passed the same test of work performed. A good trades man is not made by a license. They are made by learning thier skill not passing open book tests. Please, if you are customer, get references, review thier work and the get to know a little about thier ideas of quality and performance, make sure they have insurance.



First of all I would like to say it is a common misconception (promoted especially by licensed contractors and your local licensing board) that it is illegal for an unlicensed contractor to work on a home. This is not true (at least in Texas and California). It is illegal for an unlicensed contractor to sign a contract or to obtain a city permit to perform construction work. However, a home-owner can always act as their own contractor and pull their own permit from the city, and hire whoever they choose as their "sub-contractor." This is one of the basic freedoms our country grants homeowners. It's you're property and you get to choose who works on it. Many unlicensed contractors have built beautiful houses this way, entirely legally. In fact, I am writing this from inside the most beautifully crafted house you'd ever hope to see, built perfectly legally by an unlicensed contractor.

I've read a bunch of messages here from licensed contractors trying to convince us that unlicensed contractors are unscrupulous criminals who do shoddy work, will rip you off, burn your house down, or worse... Simultaneously they present licensed contractors as saints who always do an excellent job. I've heard this all before, and I think we all know that the truth is not so black and white. If the real situation were that black and white there wouldn't even be an argument about it. In fact, this web page wouldn't even exist because everybody would have already learned never to hire these "dreadful" unlicensed contractors. The reason this internet article exists is because it is not so black and white, as I will continue to show below.

I was an unlicensed contractor for 10 years, and I knew the limits of my abilities, never ripped off a customer, poured my heart into each project and generally did excellent work. I grew and developed as a craftsman the whole time, made excellent relationships with clients, and grew my business by word of mouth. I am also familiar with a number of unlicensed contractors (actually the term "craftsman" fits better) who do things exactly the same as me. They take great pride in their work, and are friendly, honest, hard-working people.

I've also known plenty of licensed contractors who are honest, hard-working and dedicated craftsman. HOWEVER, I've met just as many who aren't. I've seen HORRIBLE work done by licensed contractors. I've even been hired to repair or clean up some of it. I've seen tons of licensed contractors who only cared about the money, not the job and not the customer. I've seen licensed contractors who would cut corners every chance they got, and did really lousy work. Last but not least, I don't think I've ever met a licensed contractor who wasn't willing on occasion to break the rules and do a job without pulling a city permit, if they thought they could get away from it. So all the talk from licensed contractors about "following the rules" sounds really hollow to me. Truth be told, licensed contractors slam unlicensed contractors because they want your business. They don't want you to save money hiring an unlicensed contractor, because then they don't get the work themselves. They want you to hire them so they can make money. Anyone slamming ALL unlicensed contractors is just out to make money, they don't care about you or the truth... Yes, heavy words, but as someone who worked in that field for years and did an excellent job, I feel I need to defend those folks still out there doing an excellent job.

So to summarize: Some licensed contractors do excellent work, and some do horrible work, AND this same statement is also true of unlicensed contractors...

So what is a home-owner to do? How are they to choose? It's really simple. Whether you are hiring licensed or unlicensed people, you should start off with the attitude that you are not just hiring a worker to perform a single task at your house. You should approach this as someone who is going to build a long-term relationship with a craftsperson who they can rely on over the years to do good work on their home. With this attitude, start asking around. Who do your friends hire to work on their homes? Recommendations from friends is the best route. If you don't find someone that way, then look in your local community through the usual channels. Nowadays Craigslist is popular for tradesmen and craftspeople to advertise in.

Once you find somebody who looks good, ask them over to look at your job so you can check them out. If you feel good about them, then ask for references, follow up on the references and find out what others say about them. Aside from recommendations from friends, references are the ONLY reliable way to really know if the person does good work or not. When you've found someone you think might be good, give them a small job on your property and see how it goes. If they did a good job, and were respectful of you and your property, then give them a bigger job. See how it goes. After you've found them to be trustworthy and you've got a good working relationship going, give them the biggest jobs you've got.

Finding a craftsman is not like ordering fast food. It's more like dating; you don't marry someone on the first date, no matter if they are "licensed" or not. You get to know them and establish trust before you commit! Good luck!



The ONLY thing a license does is it makes it so the CONSUMER has a way to get back money legally if fraud happens. It has NOTHING to do with quality of work, even though we may take a test on our trade, it has no way of the quality of craftsmanship ..none... I have seen jobs unlicensed masons have done. I bid to fix one once at over 125 grand. She already paid 50 grand to the unlicensed mason.She could not finish the job. They took out 3 corners of her house with a track hoe installed patio HIGHER than the back door, installed walls that were the wrong finish,, footings to nowhere. Concrete dried on the asphalt driveway, BBQ that was a nightmare. And she paid 25 grand for trees to be removed from the neighbors...and no way to get here money back ..the guy moved BACK to his home country...true story..i got more.
as for credit checks..I had bad credit a long time ago ..I have contracted in california and oregon for many years..check me out ..i have NOTHING on my checks are just another way to increase fees....although i have excellent credit never made me a bad contractor ...


Subject: Licensed Handymans

To Randy,
Thank You for the clarity. Those were my thoughts exactly. My homeowners insurance won't pay a dime if I hired someone without a license. My neighbor decided to enclose her garage and turn it into a room, they people she hired did an excellent job, but when mother nature destroyed it by no fault of the contractors work, the home insurance did not cover any of her damages because the contractor was not licensed. I'm sure to a lot of people, licenses are just a way to make them pay fees, but to people like me, I want to hire a honest person that will play by the rules if only to make sure that I'm not the one who is going to be loosing.

Bob W


Alison Sacks thinks the contractor should pay for anything he missed. I would not want her as a customer. Can you imagine what kind of fee he would have to charge to cover that risk?



if one does not like a law or regulation, do your best to change it. Do not ignore it .



Any contractor that refuses to get a licence is a contractor that more than like won't get proper building permits when doing work for you--and that's somebody I wouldn't want within a mile of my house. You can claim years and years of experience in some trade, but that experience means nothing if you refuse to get a licence so you can be held accountable for the work you do--and it also means nothing if that years and years of experience you have involves doing work that's not up to current code.

John Jones


In the state of Florida it is a felony to sign a contract without a license.There is no license for a handyman. Why would you hire someone who is breaking the law. If the do shoddy work or rip off some valuables, don't call the law ,you invited them in knowing they were illegal.

Daryl Senica


i think that having a license is all part of doing business and doing it right we run across a ton of unlicensed guy's in Florida and it get's pretty bad they come in cheap do the job and most times do it wrong.I beleive that it will always be a problem people should always trust a fully licensed guy but if you doubt them call anouther ask questions if it comes down to right or wrong a good guy will give you a free second opinion and help you in any way they can



I agree with ellis on this post. Find someone by talking to those you trust, whether friends, family members or co-workers. Word of mouth reference is a great way to find the best. I do strongly encourage checking out online reviews as well. When you find a possible good contractor, consider these factors:
1. How was their phone representative?
2. Were they upfront about any service/travel charges/fees?
3. Are the technicians courteous, uniformed and clean?
4. Do they offer a guarantee IN WRITING of your 100% satisfaction or your money back with no fine print?
5. Do they respect the condition of your home by wearing shoe covers, placing drop cloths, etc?
6. Do they offer a straight forward price IN WRITING with no hidden fees or costs BEFORE they perform any service work?
7. If so, will they not require payment until the technician has completely gone over the repair work done and made sure the homeowner was 100% satisfied before requiring payment?
8. Do they have a customer referral rewards program in place?

Most companies that adhere to standards such as these are customer-oriented, professional contractors who have the customers best interest in mind. While they probably won't be the cheapest, it is a safe assumption that these companies have drug-free, background checked, educated and professional technicians who have undergone months, if not years of training, passed a thorough examination process before being hired, and are truly an elite group of service professionals. Most of these companies thrive on repeat business of customers, and may even have a membership program that homeowners can sign up at a monthly or annual rate that will give them front of the line service and discounts on future service calls. And yes, companies with these standards will have all the proper licensing, insurance and bonding required by their local jurisdictions. Last but not least, to refer to ellis's post, finding that contractor with these high standards and customer service, you will be able to build that relationship that put you at ease knowing that not only is the work being performed per code, but you have a partner that truly cares about the safety and welfare of you, the homeowner. "....get to know them and establish trust before you commit!" Great advice!
Btw, if you are concerned about "who" will be in your home, look up to see if you have any companies in your area that are participating in the "Technician Safety Seal" program. Contractors bearing the "Technician Safety Seal" have drug free, background checked (felon and criminal free) techs that bear a name tag and a Safety Seal patch on their uniform, as well as being able to furnish proof of their cleanliness. Check for yourself at



I am laughing at all of this ! A (my license ) is a joke!! I own a landscape company here in denver Colo I am getting killed by all the flybyes. Having my business license doesn't do anything but cost me more money!! I can not operate at the lower cost that the illegals and what we call flybyes are charging the people are broke and when wanting something done they can't afford to hire (us) legal companies! Unfortunately in these days there are consumers (customers) that are trying to get somthing for free I can't count all the customers I have been ripped off by none payment and bounced checks I do not support the BBB another bill to pay for and it's not always the contractor in the wrong please be aware that people will come onto sites like this to trash a co or worker out of revenge basically everything is a f}#%^+ mess w no way to fix it do the dam job rite the first time!! or don't do it...

matthew wood


Wow. It never fails to amaze me the endless list of excuses that unlicensed contractors try to use to justify being illegal. There are certain trades that require licensing and if you hire someone who isnt licensed, you are basically hiring someone who doesnt follow through. I say that because, if you cant be bothered to go take your licensing test, and follow the licensing rules i doubt you can be bothered to pick up your phone when your customer calls with a problem. Consumers, dont be fooled by unlicensed people trying to do work that requires a license. Theres a reason why they dont have a license and none of those reasons are going to be to your benefit. For my particular trade, the state license required 4000 hours of apprenticeship in a very specific discipline of plumbing. It could take as much as 10,000 hours of apprenticeship time if the persons experience is in areas that arent directly related to code compliant design and installations of plumbing systems (for example, plumbing repairs, drain cleaning etc.)
One word of advice for consumers, most anything you do in your house requires a permit and a code inspection. these things are in place for your protection, and you should take advantage of them. an unlicensed contractor will avoid pulling permits or get you to do it yourself. This is a big red flag, and you need to pay attention. Also, never ever give money up front. If the contractor wants you to pay for materials before they do the job then perhaps you can pay when the materials are delivered to your jobsite, that way, at least you have something in exchange for your money. In my state, an unlicensed contractor cant get liability insurance either, so when they flood your house its going to be your problem. Think of it this way, the insurance company knows that someone without a license isnt qualified. Is that who you want working on your home? And FYI, an unlicensed contractor CANT do a thing against you to get paid for work they have done. So technically, if your state requires the plumber to be licensed, and you hire someone who is not, you dont have to pay them and theres nothing they can do. Personally Id like to see more unlicensed folks get stuck by homeowners who are aware of the rules!
Remember, most states have a website where you can check on the licensing status of the folks you want to hire. Check into it. Any licensed professional is proud of that certification and works very hard to follow the rules in order to keep that license squeaky clean. Most licensed contractors have to be recertified every year and have a great many hoops to jump through to keep that license and to stay legal. Its your home, or your investment property, or your business... Why would you put these things at risk to a guy who can only letter a truck, but cant seem to run a legal business?

To angies list, this comment box on your website is obnoxious. perhaps you might open it up a little so a person could put together a reasonable paragraph without wearing out the up and down arrows on the keyboard?... If my comments dont make sense, this itty bitty box has alot to do with it. Just a thought

Kelly La Rue


I was called to a house to inspect the wiring of a dryer because the homeowner was killed trying to hook up his dryer. There were two problems, one the homeowner wired up the dryer himself and two, the so called electrician installed the receptacle with no ground. The real problem was the receptacle because had it been installed with a ground as soon as the homeowner plugged in the dryer the circuit breaker would have tripped thus saving his life. Of course doing his own wiring was foolhardy.



The way I see it, there are many sides to this story. On one side are the contractors. There are the shoddy unlicensed contractors and repairmen who take advantage of uninterested or unconcerned homeowners. They take their good fortune, squeeze every penny they can out of the job and then walk away without worrying about how good the work is. They are only in it to make as much money as they can and don’t care about repeat business. Then there are the decent unlicensed contractors that care about the craftsmanship of their work. They take the time to make sure the job is done correctly the first time. These types are likely to have repeat customers. On the other side of the contractor coin are the licensed ones. But even in this group the members are diverse. Some take advantage of loopholes in the law to get away with doing subpar work and others go above the call and do more than required.

On the other side are the homeowners. The first time is akin to Ebenezer Scrooge, pinching every penny in a effort save money. They may look at licensing but are more interested in the bottom line. They are happy when the contractor does a great job but also seem very surprised when the job becomes too expensive or the work is inferior. On the other end of the spectrum are the Richie Rich types who spare no expense, do their homework by checking to ensure the contractor can live up to his/her word. They are more likely to hire a licensed contractor but if they are satisfied with the craftsmanship an unlicensed one will do just as well. Somewhere in the middle is the average homeowner. Good, bad, or indifferent their only goal is that the work is done on time, on budget, and on the level. They don’t WANT to worry about licenses but if it ensures a proper job they will. The average homeowner is more worried about the budget than anything else. They will pull the plug as soon as it becomes too expensive, no matter the quality of work. They are also the first to complain if work doesn’t meet expectations, even if expectations are out of hand.

No matter the contractor, licensed or unlicensed, and no matter the homeowner, Scrooge or Richie Rich, there are pitfalls to any job. Due diligence is the name of the game and the consumer must remember that they get what they pay for. I completely believe that it is up to the homeowner to choose the right contractor and has very little room to complain they do little more than look at the surface.



I emphathize with Allison Sacks' experience with the home inspector. We had a licensed inspector and even then, we found far too many overlooked items that has cost us tens of thousands of dollars. The inspector failed to notice water damage in the basement, an old roof that was leaking, and missing cover for the place where the wall meets the side of the house - and as a result, water would pour into the walls, becoming moldy. But Ms. Sacks was smart to take action. All I did was submit a complaint with the BBB and grumbled as I paid contractors to repair all of these problems. So even a licensed home inspector may not be reliable - we suspect the former owner of the house tipped him off in order to make the sale.

Nancy Fantetti


I have over 100 pictures of shoddy workmanship (that is a polite way of saying it) on my facebook web page. Look it up!

Nancy Fantetti


My so-called "licensed' contractor is being prosecuted for residential building without a license. Hopefully, they will order restitution for my thousands of dollars in repairs to work. I am going to continue to pursue civil court if criminal court doesn't pan out.

Otto Matik Sr.


Contractors, licensed or not, can join the BBB (Better Business Bureau). This is not a consumer watch dog group to complain to when any contractor or handyman doesn't meet your expectations. It does in fact provide information
about their subscribers to the public about any problems that arose with the contractor and what the disposition of any problems are. Such as did they correct the problem to the homeowners satisfaction or is there now a lawsuit pending This is clearly a useful and cost free tool for homeowners and others to utilize.



I'm an unlicensed Handyman in Oregon. I have 20+ years of experience in the construction trades, and I used to be licensed back when I did this full time. I have EXCELLENT references. Almost all of my business comes from referrals and I've never had a problem with ANY customer not being completely satisfied with my work. I always take care of my customers!

While I do agree that some trades should require a license (namely structural, and serious plumbing and electric work) I think it's ridiculous to require someone to be a licensed contractor to mow your lawn or to install a screen door!!

Make no mistake, licensing is all about being a revenue stream for the State and insurance and bonding companies (who lobby hard for rules favorable to their businesses) and other trade associations and contractor's boards who charge annual fees to contractors (like the one who posted above this message) and has very little to do with protecting consumers. Homeowners get ripped-off all the time by licensed contractors--a license is no guarantee against shoddy work or unscrupulous business practices!!! And, if the State actually cracks down on licensed contractors who are ripping-off consumers, all these folks have to do is re-register under another name, pay the state their fees, and they're off and running again! Licensing is about fees/money--it's not about consumer protection!!

Handymen and others who perform basic homeowner services should NOT be required to be licensed! Doing so does nothing to protect homeowners and only costs them more money as the costs of licensing, bonding, and insuring gets passed on to them. Where do we draw the line with these silly laws? Should your paper boy be licensed, bonded, and insured to deliver your newspaper to your home? I mean he could slip and fall on your deck and sue, right? Common sense folk...

Two years ago, if you were a homeowner in Oregon and you needed a screen door installed, had a leaking faucet, and a broken light switch, it was next to impossible to find a licensed contractor to fix these things for you as the economy was booming and most people in the trades had all the work they could handle and couldn’t be bothered with small jobs. And if you could find someone to do the smaller jobs, they'd bill out at $50-$75 an hour, and then send over some kid they were paying $9 an hour to do the job--and then the contractor would pocket the rest of the money--and they'd still make you wait 3-4 weeks for the privilege!!

It wasn't about helping customers at a reasonable cost--it was about squeezing every last cent out of people. Now that the building industry is in a free-fall and contractors are desperate, everyone is running around and pointing fingers and trying to run off the Handymen who do a great job for less money not because we don't know what we're doing, but because we can do the job cheaper and we'll get to you faster!! The truth is that's what licensing is all about--money! The State wants the money from licensing fees and as a way to track revenue streams for tax purposes, the contractors want to keep billing out at $50-$75 and hour, and the insurance and bonding companies want mandatory insurance and bonding for all trades to increase their profits.

Add to that Contractor’s and Trade associations who want to charge people annual membership fees…….it’s really all about money, and YOU, the homeowner are paying for it! In Oregon at least there is NO proficiency requirement in getting a contractor's license--it's an open-book exam that focuses primarily upon contract law.

Anyone can take the test, pay the fees, and then be a "licensed contractor," and still not know a thing about how to do good work!!! I always tell my customers and friends and family that a license means NOTHING relative to the quality of someone's work. CHECK REFERENCES!!! Don't just ask for 3 references (anyone can find three people to say good things about them....) check their last 3-6 references! I really think that in order to strike a balance between protecting the homeowner and enriching the State and insurance companies with scare-tactics, that there needs to be some common sense applied here.

Julie Stratton


Your stories on contractors is a must-read. Thank you!

Jim Powell


Your articles contain good advice, but checking with state
or local agencies for the details that you mention may not be enough. I’ve had two experiences where, despite a clean licensing/complaint record before hiring, the contractors allowed licensing to lapse or had a license suspended before my work was finished. In both cases, the jobs had to be completed by other licensed contractors to meet state or local code requirements. Periodic checking of license status during the work may help prevent a later surprise.

Christine A.


I read Allison Sack’s home inspector story with a pit in my stomach. We relied on our licensed buyers agent in Northern Virginia to recommend a home inspector. Our inspector also had a card stating [he was] licensed, insured and certified. He was none of the above. He missed very obvious signs of serious foundation problems (current estimates total more than $80,000) and a very obvious plumbing code violation that could lead to pipes bursting in the walls if it gets cold enough (they have frozen once already). He did return the amount of the inspection and has since filed bankruptcy.

Tonya Walter


We recently had work done by a licensed contractor in Georgia who was referred to us by our Realtor. The contractor completed the work and we paid, but about a month later we got a visit from that contractor’s supplier stating the contractor hadn’t paid him for the materials used on our house (more than $10,000 worth). The supplier said he had to put a lien on our house as the only recourse to try to get the money. I do understand it’s lawful for the supplier to do this, but what recourse do we have?

Mimi Stewart, Champions Real Estate Services, Seattle


Thanks for including tips for verifying contractor licensing. This is very helpful. Recently, a few of my real estate clients have been having problems with contractors who don’t finish on time. Can you direct me towards any resources that might outline the important elements of a contractor contract?

Nancy Fantetti


I read the article about Allison Sacks from Philadelphia being taken by the unlicensed contractor. I’m in the same boat right now. [A contractor] put a 24 by 22 foot addition on my home. I had to keep paying him to get the work done, and he took me for thousands of dollars. It turned out, he wasn’t even licensed. It was my job to check into his license, but I was trusting. I, too, have become a much better consumer.

Michael A. Snyder, CLP LCB Administrator, Salem, Ore.


Thank you so much for your article on “Contractor Licensing.” This is so important for consumer protection in Oregon, and the State Landscape Contractors Board commends you on informing your readers. Landscape Construction is a regulated industry in Oregon and the perception that “landscaping” deals only with maintenance is a challenge. Landscape maintenance is not regulated in Oregon, but the installation and construction of a landscape project is. It’s important for consumers to know this when they invest their dollars into such a project. Licensing affords them a certain level of protection that is not otherwise there.



Just wanted to leave my two cents on the subject. While a licensed contractor is great, in my state the limits for a general contractor is $30,000 and up. I own a home remodeling business. It is rare that a project ever comes near that amount and so I do not carry a license. I do however, carry full insurance coverage. In my opinion, you can't beat references to check quality of work and always check insurance or request a liability waiver.



I think the government are crooks. If we are going on BAD CREDIT talk for licensing

Nick Marine


ALWAYS hire a Licensed contractor that is fully INSURED. Have them provide a certificate of Insurance and copy of license BEFORE starting any work. Hiring someone who is uninsured will cost you MORE than a service call if he/she is injured on your property. At 20-30 dollars an hour it's highly unlikely they are insured, do your homework!

Joe Johnson

Subject: Insurance and workmens comp

Insurance and workmens compensation are two very different items.In the state of Virginia a contractor with less than 2.5 employees does not need to provide workmens compensation. The homeowner is offered to purchase the policy for the job which is 50% of the labor costs.



i have been in the trades for 35 yrs. i know my limits , and there are people with a license that rip people off ,such as my old boss , a general contractor. Never gets a referal, or a call back .his scheduling sucks ,he lies to the homeowners and tries to get progress payments before the work is done , now he fired me because i didnt let him use me in his lies ,being his foreman there was no loyalty to me either ....

so i agree .having a licence doesnt mean you will get better work. i have gone back to working for myself, and its all referral ,and word of mouth work done code or better. i have had my license some years ago so yes i do know the laws and codes and give all my clients a guarantee and great craftsmanship and will continue to do so because every client deserves to have peace of mind.

as for some people being alone in the clients house, there are good and bad people every where so just because you have a license or a good credit rating doesnt mean you do good work or your honest.

i like the fact that people should ask for references and check out some of these crooks out there with licenses.

Dan A


I just started a handyman business in Illinois and I don't need a license but I am going to get one just for the consumer peace of mind, it's only $100 per year so i figure it's worth it. I can do a lot of stuff but I don't touch big electrical or plumbing. That stuff is for the professionals, not me. I'm not sure if licensing is good or bad but it can't hurt you if you do quality work and are honest and reliable. I would have to say that if you do good work and and are honest then the license is an option for you. I'm not out to take people's money unless they are satisfied with my work, then I'll take it gladly and come back and do more for them. Just my 2 cents.



i have worked for many licensed contractors, making 20 or 30 bucks an hour and they charge the customer 90 bucks an hour off my back. then because i take to long to do the job right the first time i get the boot. contractors are only concerned with one thing how much they can pocket from the job in a short time of work, i know there are some bad workers and contractors but i feel the customer is boss and should get the best for there money, i work by word of mouth



I was commenting on the contractor who has to have good credit to get a license. In Sept. 07 I was severely injured in a home invasion that almost took my life. I ended up with bad credit because of that situation and the only reason I was able to afford to fix my credit is because I became a licensed contractor

Pedro Talavera


I enjoyed this info very much. I wanted to leave my two cents. I am a mobile mechanic here in Miami. i have been licensed for a few years. Before I was licensed I was not happy. I didn't have insurance and I had to ask my customer to drive the car to do a test drive. Now I am all legal, yes I spend some money but I am relaxed. My customers appreciate the fact that their vehicle is not at risk with me. For the people that say no license is needed to do good work, yes it is true, But when you license you put yourself in a group that wants to offer the best to its customers. there are plenty of bad companies. So a customer has to do their homework and research the rating places available. I recommend the cities that require licensing to keep their prices low and also offer web pages where people can research and complaint/praise on licensed service providers.With all the money they charge they should give back to the consumers some how.
Take some time and do a deep research. You will be really happy you did.

Gary Marino


Licensed, unlicensed which way do I go as a Home owner? Lets think about this for a second. If you think that because your wallet can't handle hiring someone who is Properly Licensed & Insured Guess again. When this guy burns your house down because he is trying to solder a copper pipe deep in a bay of a house that is kindling. Because Mr. Home Improvement or Mr. Handy Man feels after all, how hard is it to solder a piece of pipe ? Hell I saw it done on You Tube or some DIY site a couple of times.

As a Home owner you'll think at first, well he has a Home improvement CERTIFICATE he should have Insurance right? WRONG!! Let me play it out for you. He calls his insurance company and his agent says to him "we're not covering this !! You don't have a plumbing license ! Why were you doing PLUMBING work? OR why were you doing ELECTRICAL?? your Insurance only covers you for what you can legally be doing. The state does not allow a H.I.C. or Handy man to do jobs that require a license. And if they tell you different run em out of you home because they don't have your best interest at heart, only their wallet. What are they covered for? Painting, tile work, sheet rock, Hanging Drapes etc... You as the homeowner call your insurance company and they say " was he a licensed contractor ? if so than his insurance will cover it. If not then you should have never allowed him to do this type of work in your home. Now your wallet has lint balls falling out of it because you thought you were saving $30. Let me make something perfectly clear to all who think why do I need a LICENSE or this state don't require it.

WHY does it take a true Tradesman 4 years of schooling and an apprenticeship program as well as Testing before he gets his license? The Health issues abound. Plumbers for lack of better words Protect the Health of the Nation. what do you think our healths would be like if no cared WHO did the plumbing. Why do you think there is a National BUILDING CODE. National PLUMBING CODE ELECTRICAL CODE. Heres some food for thought to all. Think back 10 - 15 years ago, how many Home Improvement Trucks did you see on the road. How many MR. Handy Men did you see ?? compared to these days. Why the big change? Well it started with home computers. The trades started showing a drop in apprentices coming up through the trades. The powers to be saw this as a problem in that if there are no plumbers to create a fair market place ( Competition ) then the ones that are out there will be able to name their price and the consumer will be caught between a rock and a hard place. This goes for all licensed trades. SO, how do we fix this? The answer: Lets pass out home improvement certificates to anyone who will pay $160 for it. These people don't have to prove any thing to get it. No past work record, no schooling, hell we don't even know if they know how to hold a hammer. We won't even have to police them because what they are doing isn't an arrestable offense. If in the event someone should get caught doing work without a license we'll fine them bringing in more revenue for the state. But the main goal was to keep a fair market place. Hell if I can't open up a doctors office and sell my wares as a Doctor / Plumber then why should these guys sell them selves as anything the homeowner needs them to be. LEGALLY they can't, but if no one is looking then who cares.

I asked the state why is it that these guys can advertise on their trucks that they do it all Painting, Doors, Dishes, Electrical, Plumbing, Remodels, stone work, & oh yea Painting and no one says anything about it. Their answer " just because someone put that on their truck doesn't mean they do it." In my world if it quacks like a Duck and walks like a Duck then it is normally a DUCK. Why would a H.I.C advertise for their PLUMBER or electrician? BUYER BEWARE if one claims to do every thing then how much of that is good. Better yet RIGHT!! Remember there is good and bad in everything out there, meaning one pass his classes with flying colors and they other guy barley made it out of school Doctors, Lawyers, Plumbers, and Handymen.

jacqueline G


I have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors as have these poor people who you cited in your articles. In my case, although I have been taken for many of thousands of dollars, I know I will never recover from these contractors so I feel that there is no point in pursuing them through the courts. I absolutely believe that these are criminal offenses and these people who commit "Theft by Deception" regularly, should be punished as any other thief would be. They should be sent to jail especially if they refuse to make restitution by paying pack the money they stole from their unsuspecting victims!

Angie's List Staff


Hello, Mark!
Thanks for your comment.

To find out the licensing requirements in your area, check with your county and state governments' official websites.
To find this, do a keyword search in a search engine for your location and the words "contractor license."



What if you want to do an odd jobs type of business? No particular focus, but doing a lot of things "around the house" for cheaper than professionals. Because there are bound to be plenty of people who, say, don't want to have to paint their guest room (or don't have time), but don't want to/can't afford a professional service. I'm hoping to start a business filling that void. I've done plenty of DIY stuff in my own home and that doesn't make me a professional, but I still figure I'm capable doing a good job.

Is there licensing for that sort of thing? Insurance/bonding I know I've got to get for sure, but considering the nature of the business, getting a bunch of different licenses makes this venture not worth it.

Certain things are out, of course. No way am I attempting electrical work in anyone's home but my own.

Angie's List Staff


Thanks for your comment, Chris!

All ratings on service companies on Angie's List come from homeowners and consumers who share their experiences and grade their overall satisfaction.

Contractors do not pay to be on Angie's List, nor can they rate themselves.
This is the main difference between Angie's List and other similar services.



Are you kidding me? "A credit check is a good indicator of what kind of person is in your bedroom while you're in the kitchen thinking how nice that man seems and that he gave you a good deal...."
So people with bad credit are criminals now? That is absolutely without a doubt the stupidest thing I've ever heard in a forum. So I guess by this guy's logic people with bankruptcy and companies with bankruptcy are evil and not to be trusted. I've yet to draw a line from licensing to value,either. I don't see a connection there. Licensing is about control pure and simple. People get ripped off because they don't do their research, don't talk to neighbors and friends and don't check references. Licensing is no guarantee of quality. That is proven by the fact of how many contractors lose their licenses every year (how did they get them in the first place if they were so qualified?). And as far as your lowest bid theory....the space shuttle was built by the lowest bidder as are many weapon systems used by our armed forces, so that theory doesn't hold water at all.There is a reason not all states license ontractors, primarily because not all mechanical work needs to be licensed, people just have to do a better job of checking out a contractor first,and I don't mean with Angie's List and similar lists where all the contractor has to do is come up with their monthly payment and they will get listed.



We completed the licensing process last year. It is rigorous. Not only does the process verify education and experience, it also includes a credit check.
Do you want a guy with bad credit lurking around your home?
Most people with bad credit are irresponsible in one way or another.
A credit check is a good indicator of what kind of person is in your bedroom while you're in the kitchen thinking how nice that man seems and that he gave you a good deal.
Licensing is about value. If you want cheap, hire from CraigsList. Buyer beware.

Bryan Barnard


Licensing and inspections are two separate creatures. I was a licensed contractor in Washington state 18-19 years ago, AND I was a contractor in Idaho for several years after that. Both states have building codes and inspections, but only WA required licensing for contractors. Inspections are plenty sufficient to ensure safety and code compliance.

Contractor licensing, on the other hand, is redundant and IS NOT for safety... if it were for safety, then the state would require owner-builders to get licensed, but they don't... the state agrees that the inspection process is sufficient. If you want a licensed/certified/approved/kosher "expert", then by all means go pay extra for one. But don't force me to hire them and don't tell me it's for my safety. I've been around long enough and have seen plenty of licensed contractors who didn't know what they were doing. Licensing only adds to the customers costs and limits the customer's choices. If they want to hire someone they trust, but who is unlicensed, let them be and mind your own business. They don't need more bureaucratic do-gooders needlessly adding to their expenses.



KatieJ...contractor fails, code officials have sympathy but does not provide you consumer lines of support (roofing really does not require a license in some states.) Then you need to revisit your homework. First off, if you have suffered damage do to work done, then you should contact your homeowners insurance. But, I do understand insurance, and how it works so I can understand your hesitation. You can open up a case with contractor's General Liability carrier, but because Liability doesn't necessarily mean what it means to us, utilize the authority of home insurance...believe me, they manage risks and will negotiate to have the problem fixed. You might hear others...but then your homeowner rates go up!...only if you were negligent in your due care and negligence and the contractor was not found negligent. Negligence and Liability are very tricky legal word, have a good conversation with your agent, find out what it will cost to make a claim.

Chuck Stewart


Well finding a licensed contractor and getting references sometimes doesnt even work? I went through this process to have my roof done. They started the job and left the top of my house with only tar paper on it, over an 8 day peroid I called 5 times asking when they were going to finish. On the 6th call I explained that my living room was ceiling was leaking, they came the next morning to fix. Had the city inspector come out and look at roof and living room. Its now been 35 days later and still have not got anything resolved as to the code violations on my roof nor the 1500 dollers in damage on my ceiling. So now who do I go to when the cost of collecting would be higher than the cost of the orginal roof job?



Wonderful advice Michael!! Wish I knew then what I know now!



Licensing is just another pay-to-play proposition and is no guarantee of quality. What about states that don't require a license? I operate a successful HVAC business in Illinois, where no license is required. I do quality work that I back with a full guarantee. Some of the surrounding towns require certain trades to be licensed, but many of them allow open books during the exam. The best way to ensure quality is use of references and word of mouth. Licenses and orgs. like Angie's List are no guarantees that somebody is going to do the job right and unfortunately many people believe the opposite, and that is a shame.



I compete with unlicensed "contractors" all the time. some do good work, some do not. You usually have more recourse against a licensed contractor, and a licensed contractor has recourse against you if you don't pay. An unlicensed has no legal recourse against you if you do not pay, that's why they ask for too much $$ up front. A well structured draw schedule protects both contractor and client from getting too far ahead of the money or the work. Best advice: Never pay for work until it's completed. If your contractor can't afford the materials (or have credit with suppliers), then you should not hire them. Caveat Emptor!

linda B


I just went through a horror show with an unlicensed handyman. The license # on his ad belonged to someone else, he had a bad address and couple of aliases. Next time I will call Consumer Affairs to verify the info first!



Licensing is about being able to legally perform and contract work according to state statutes. Being able to properly permit and have inspected the work performed. This to make sure work is being installed according to written building codes established over the last 100 years. A massive molasses storage container on the east coast burst open and created the first american building codes.



Caleb finally said it well enough to be heard so Hear, Hear!



I agree about electricians. Both of my brothers are union electricians and my father retired after over 40 years as a union electrician. I do not think they hold contractors to the same high standard though. I don't know, but I am guessing they just take the test....not the thousands of work hours before the test that you are talking about for electricians. I think the states use the license as an attempt to hold people to a higher standard, but if they don't enforce the laws, it becomes a joke and in my mind, just a source of revenue.



First off I disagree with everyone that says a license is just a way that the state makes revenue. It is a way to maintain safe work practices as well as protecting consumers. It is definitely necessary that the government enforces licensing laws, especially in the electrical trade. To become a journeyman electrician you need 8000 hours of on the job training and 720 hours of classroom theory. After your 4 years of being an apprentice and recording your 8000 hours you can apply for the journeyman's test. This test consists of 70 code questions and you are given 3 hours to complete it. Although this test allows the use of an open code book it carries nearly a 50% failure rate. Of course there will be the occasional licensed electrician that doesn't do the greatest work but at least you know for certain he or she knows minimum safety standards. Electrical work is not something that you should mess around with because you may injure yourself or others. I would also like to stress checking contractors backgrounds by means listed above before hiring them, this will keep you safe from fraud and unsafe work.



A homeowner DOES have the freedom to choose and licensing is voluntary. I do tend to agree that licensing is just the state's way to bring in income, although I think the attempt is there to try to ensure a level of skill. My big mistake(well, among many!) was the idea or thought that licensing DID ensure that level of skill. I should have realized it doesn't because I work in the nursing field and that isn't true in that field either!!! Turned out my guy lied about being licensed anyway....just more carefully checking the person out is all you can really do, licensed or unlicensed.



I disagree with Bryan's premise. After thirty years and being surrounded by unincorporated areas and many unlicensed electricians I can say with absolute certainty that whatever else drives licensing is without doubt about certainty. I was recently called to examine an electrician due to the wiring of a dryer circuit that was incorrectly installed by an unlicensed electrician. Licensing is about control and is essential for safety.

Bryan Barnard


In this "land of the free", and with the economy as sick as it is, should a homeowner have the freedom to choose who works for him? Or should government seek the position of savior/protector of the "ignorant masses" and require everyone to pay extra for the certified kosher? Why not just allow licensing to be voluntary, and let those homeowners who insist on having a licensed contractor freely make that choice, and let everyone else freely make their choices? Really, this is not about safety, but control. We don't need more big brother breathing down our necks, restricting our freedoms in the name of safety and security.

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Todd said it best.

An itemized list / cost breakdown, more often than not is used against the contractor when it is shared with other builders who will then beat it.

Good contractors use good people, and good people cost more.  Just the cost of having the appropriate insurance / bond can be the difference between winning a job or losing it ot a 'lower bid'.

It is the rule of three; there is Good, Cheap and Fast.  You can have any two:  Good and Cheap, won't be Fast; Good and Fast, won't be Cheap;  Cheap and Fast, won't be Good!

When comparing bids, it isn't the cheapest or the 'nicest' person you should select.   You should understand why there is a large price difference (it shows there are gaps in your design program or what you have asked for specifically, which means there may be arguments later).  If most of the bids are in line, and one is way high or way low,  you want to know why before dismissing or selecting them.

A price-only decision almost always costs more in the long run. 

Good luck!

No.  Heck no.  Here's a good example.  We very recently needed to find someone to install about 500 square feet of exotic wood flooring (we already have the materials).  We contacted about 12-15 top-rated Angieslist contractors.  Out of the few who did get back to us, we got 5 quotes, 2 of them were literally just over the phone.  They "didn't feel it would be necessary to even see the space". 


Here were the bids: 

$4000 (sight unseen), $2800 (sight unseen), $2500, $1500, $1450


We didn't "share our budget for this".  Why would we?  We asked them to bid the job.  That's it.  All of them should be well-qualified and they are all highly rated.  We were interested in how THEY value their time/resources - for an apples/apples job. 


Do you still think that you should tell them about your budget?  Your choice.  From my standpoint it isn't their business.  I'm asking them to bid on a project.  Invariably I'll get some very high bids, medium bids and a few more reasonable ones - ALL from "highly rated contractors". 

For this type of job, you need plans and specs from an Architectural/Engineering firm before thinking about contractors - and to get a building permit. Ben's method would work and done incrementally could cost well over $100,000 plus as he says, but this not really the most economic way to approach this big a job. A House Mover or Foundation Underpinning specialty company can usually slide your house onto a whole new foundation, or jack it up on steel beams and hold it there while a basement is dug underneath it, without any intermediate piers. The jacking/move cost would probably be on the order of $30-40,000, and a new basement probably about $40-50,000 - rough ballpark, though I have been involved in some 1000-1500SF single story jobs that went for under $70,000 total. I have been involved in a fair number of these type jobs - and the way the numbers come out, if there is room on the property to move the house, it is almost always nearly as cheap or cheaper to build an equivalent square footage (basement plus ground level) addition rather than add a basement under the house, and that way your new footage is half above ground so worth more on resale, plus you do not lose use of the house for a month or two. Second cheapest is usually sliding house to a new foundation, if property is large enough to do this - though house is totally cut off from utilities for a week to three. Most expensive, and usually only done in tight city environments or with full 2 story or higher houses, is adding the foundation in place, though your utility interruptions should be on the order of hours at a time rather than days or weeks. Talk to an architect - I think you will quickly lean towards the addition option rather than adding a basement - it is just too expensive to deepen foundations in most cases, plus you WILL get cracking in the house and possible water and sewer pipe problems in a move/underpinning job, which is not the case with an addition. This become more likely the case since you want to add 8 feet off the back of the home anyway - so why not just enlarge the addition and do it all that way - MUCH simpler, and MUCH less disruption of your life, and you get much higher resale return on your investment.

Herlonginc's answer stated that it is not the contractor's job to pay for materials and labor to do the job. I say baloney - a reputable, established contractor has the funds (or a business operations line of credit) to "carry" the job between interim or partial payments, each of which should be keyed to completion of distinct easily measured mileposts in the job, and for a homeowner I would say should be in not more than 20% increments for jobs exceeding a week or so. For shorter jobs, then an initial payment, 50% completion, and completion would be normal. His cost of carry funds is part of his cost of doing business, and is figured as part of his overhead.Bear in mind when he is buying materials and paying labor, his materials he typically pays for on a 10-30 day invoice, and his labor typically a week or two after they work, so he is not really "fronting" that much money if you are giving him weekly or biweekly interim payments, on a typical residential job.

If he does not have the funds to buy materials (excepting possibly deposit on special-order or luxury items, which still typically are 10-30 day invoiceable to him) and hire personnel then he is a fly-by-night operation, and he should not be bidding that size job. You should never (other than MAYBE an earnest deposit of not more than the LESSER of 10% or $5000) let the payments get ahead of the approved/inspected work progress - typically payment should be 10-20% BEHIND the progress, with at least 10% retained at the effective end of work until final inspections and completion of the final "punchlist".

That promotes rapid continuation of the work, discourages the all-too common nightmare of contractors taking on more work than they can handle so they leave your job for weeks or months to go work on someone else's job (frequently to start that someone else's new job so he can get the job), and does not leave you out a tremendous amount of cash if he does not finish and you have to hire another contractor to finish the job. Remember, if you have to hire a new contractor to finish the job, he will charge you a lot more than the original bid to finish someone else's unfinished mess.

This may seem cynical, but having started in the construction business about 50 years ago and seeing the shenanigans that a lot of contractors pull you cannot be too safe. You have to remember contractors are like any other people - I would say maybe 10% are outright crooks, another 25% or so will pull a fast one or overcharge if the opportunity presents itself, maybe 30% will do the work but not any better than they are forced to, about 25% are good conscientious reputable workmen, and the last 10% or so are really spectacular - conscientious, fair, and efficient craftsmen. This top 35% are the only ones you should have bidding in the first place. Therefore, only get bids from long-term reputable firms (so you shake out the marginal short-timers with less experience and also generally less ability to finish the job on budget and schedule), only those that have good RECENT references, and preferably with excellent word-of-mouth recommendation from people you know and trust. That way, you are starting right off with the cream of the crop, so hopefully whichever one bids low should be a good choice.

NEVER start with bids, then check the references of the low bidder - why even consider a vendor or contractor who you do not have faith in from the start ? Get references and short-list you possibles BEFORE you ask for bids.

Low bids - that is another matter - commonly the low bidder is NOT who you want, especially if he is significantly lower than several others, which might mean he is desperate for work, made a math error, or did not correctly figure the entire scope of work. You want a reasonable bid with someone you connect with and trust - that is worth a lot more in the success of the job than the absolute lowest bid.