Tips for Selecting a Contractor
Selecting a Reputable Contractor: One of the most commonly asked questions to a panel of potential jurors before a construction jury trial is “who has had a negative experience with a contractor.”
The reality is that many homeowners have had negative experiences with a residential contractor. In many instances, the homeowner finds themselves in an unwelcomed residential construction dispute with a residential contractor expecting to be paid for underperforming and substandard work.
The most effective way to avoid a residential construction dispute, it to adequately vet potential residential contractors before allowing them to tear into your home.
The following do's and don'ts in selecting a residential contractor can help you avoid a residential construction dispute:
1. Don't Just Rely on the Contractor being Licensed, Bonded, & Insured:
Many residential contractors advertise themselves as licensed, bonded, and insured as a selling point. However, every residential contractor must be registered with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. In order to obtain registration, a contractor is required to obtain bonding. In fact, preforming contracting services without being licensed and bonded is actually a crime punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $5,000 fine. Licensing and bonding is a minimum regulatory requirement, not a selling point. If a contractor has performed services on your home without being registered and bonded, not only is that a crime but that contractor may not be entitled to payment, and could be liable to for three times the resulting damage (up to $25,000) for defective work and damage under Washington's Consumer Protection Act. RCW Ch. 19.86.
2. Do ask about qualifications:
If you were hiring an employee, you would certainly want to know whether the candidate was qualified for the job. Residential contracting should be no different. On every large private commercial job and in public works contracting (projects where the owner is a governmental entity), previous relevant experience is required to even have a bid considered. There is no reason why you – as a homeowner – should not insist on qualifying your contractor before hiring them for the job. It is better to explore these issues now, rather than having to hire a residential construction lawyer to ask them after you have gotten involved in a construction dispute with a residential contractor. Ask basic questions such as:
- What is your company's experience in residential construction contracting?
- How many residential construction projects have you completed overall? In the last year?
- What were those projects?
- How were those projects different or similar to my project?
- Any there any unique issues about my project?
- What is the experience of the key personnel that will be working on my project?
- Do you plan to work on any other jobs while you are working on my home?
- Have you ever been unable to finish a project?
- Has a claim ever been made on your bond?
- Has a homeowner ever refused to pay you? If so, why
- Have you ever been involved in a lawsuit with a homeowner?
3. Do ask for references:
Again, if you are seriously considering hiring an employee, you would almost always ask for references. It is certainly difficult to imagine that a residential contractor doesn't have a few homeowners willing to share their experience about having worked with this candidate and the quality of the work
4. Do your homework:
By statute, the Department of Labor and Industries maintains public records for all lawsuits commenced against a registered contractor and all claims made against a residential contractor's bond. You can verify whether a residential contractor has been sued or whether a bond claim has been made by making a written request to the Department of Labor and Industries. This is a good way to check the honesty of the residential contractor's answers to your questions about bond claims and lawsuits. You can also run a Watch report through the Washington State Patrol to see if the candidate (or key personnel) have a criminal history.
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