Ask the Contractors
Experts Answer Common Home Improvement Questions
By Bert Sandman
California Contractors State License Board
Do you have questions about hiring
and managing building contractors? The California
Contractors State License Board (CSLB) has answers.
For more information, or to check out a contractor’s
license, bond and workers’ compensation insurance
information, visit the CSLB Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov.
Q: I have gotten a few bids to get my leaking roof
fixed. One of the contractors said we don't need
to have a written contract to do the work. He said
that it's not a big job, so it's really not necessary.
Is this true? Do I have to have a written contract,
regardless of the size of the job?
A: Written home improvement contracts are necessary
for jobs that cost $500 or more, including labor
and supplies. Even if the job is less than $500,
which may be your case, it's still a good idea to
have a written contract because it outlines the
terms that you and your contractor have agreed upon.
The old axiom is true: "A verbal contract is
as good as the paper it's not written on."
More information about what contracts should include
is available at www.cslb.ca.gov.
Q: The winter storms lodged a branch into my rain
gutters and now they are flooded and broken. I need
them fixed ASAP, but I am on a tight budget and
unsure how to find the best contractor for the cheapest
price. Any recommendations?
A: Yes, there are many ways to find a credible and
affordable contractor. Looking one up in the phone
book is the easiest way, however, you need to make
sure you check the contractor's history and verify
the contractor's license before hiring someone with
whom you've never done business. Your local Better
Business Bureau may be another resource. Local roofing
associations or building associations have high
standards for their members and may be able to refer
you to someone who is in your area. Additionally,
ask family, friends and neighbors who have had work
done on their homes. See if they can provide a reference.
You can verify a contractor's license, and check
to see if any formal complaints have been filed
against them by going to www.cslb.ca.gov. By law,
contractors must have their license number in their
ad, or say that they are not licensed. So, you can
check them out, even before you call them.
Q: I am having new windows installed in my home.
I changed my mind and want windows with a different
design than originally specified in the contract.
I have told the contractor about the change I want,
and he seems pretty agreeable to it. Should I still
amend the contract to include the change? It just
seems like a lot of unneeded hassle.
A: Yes, you should insist the contract is amended
to include the change in the window design. Although
it may seem to be a "hassle" to the contractor
to amend the contract, you should always include
amendments in writing to show proof of what you
and the contractor have agreed to. Also, if the
changes you want made aren't made to your satisfaction,
and you don't have a written contract, it will be
much more difficult for you to resolve the dispute
(Bert Sandman is the Chair of the Contractors State
License Board. The CSLB operates under the umbrella
of the California Department of Consumer Affairs,
licensing and regulating California’s 292,000
contractors. The CSLB investigates 20,000 complaints
against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2004-05,
the CSLB helped consumers get more than $36 million