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If you plan to use the most important tool in your toolbox -- the checkbook -- to hire someone to do remodeling or repairs around your home, you need to do your homework. Make sure you are getting a reliable, legitimate contractor to do the work.
In Michigan, a person who contracts with a property owner to do a residential construction or a remodeling project with a value equal to or greater than $600 in labor and materials is required to be licensed by the State of Michigan as either a residential builder or a maintenance and alteration contractor. A residential builder is licensed to do any kind of home repairs, while the contractor with a residential maintenance and alteration license can only perform the specific trades and services that are listed on their license, and includes basement waterproofing, carpentry, concrete, excavation, house wrecking, insulation, masonry, painting, decorating, roofing, screen and storm sash, gutters, siding, swimming pools, tile and marble.
Even if a contractor or salesperson says their license is valid, you should call the Licensing Division of the Bureau of Commercial Services at (517) 241-9288 or go to www2.dleg.state.mi.us/colaLicVerify/ to make sure it is. You can also find out if there are any disciplinary actions against a company or individual that is licensed by calling either the Enforcement Department at (517) 241-9202 or the Michigan Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at (517) 373-1140.
Licenses for other professional contractors in specialties like electrical, mechanical or plumbing are governed by the Michigan Bureau of Construction Codes Division, (517) 241-9313. You can also do a license search online at www7.dleg.state.mi.us/bcclicense. Unfortunately, some trades, such as drywall contractors, don't need to be licensed, so make sure you do additional due diligence.
You can also look for a contractor through the particular trade association that serves that industry. Generally, contractors who belong to a trade association have to meet certain standards and abide by a code of ethics. You can find lots of trade association links on my Web site at www.masterhandyman.com in the Resources section on the homepage.
When hiring a contractor, you should also get at least three estimates, and then check the contractor's references by calling past customers and even visiting the customer's home to see the kind of work the contractor does. Once you have selected a contractor, make sure you get a written contract that clearly spells out everything, including financing arrangements and payment schedules, types of materials to be used, and the start and completion dates, including the clean-up of the site.
You should also verify that they are insured, not just for injuries, but also for poor workmanship and liability. And even if the contractor says they are insured, don't just assume their insurance is up to date. Call the contractor's insurance company to make sure it is in effect. Also have them mail you an insurance certificate.
No matter what kind of work you're having done, once you've selected a contractor, never pay for the entire job up front. Make a deposit when work begins to cover materials. Pay by check or credit card and get a receipt. And make sure you contact your city or township to find out if a permit is needed for the work being done, and have your contractor apply for the permit. Never pull the permit yourself! If a contractor asks you to pull a permit, they may not be licensed or may be trying to absolve themselves from liability or quality of workmanship issues. Final payment should be made only after all inspections are approved by you and your city's building department, where necessary.
Remember, if you do sign a contract in your home, you may have a right to cancel the contract for up to 72 hours after signing. You may also have one day to cancel a contract where you agreed to make payments over time.
For more information and tips about hiring a contractor, visit Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox's Web site at www.michigan.gov/ag, click on the Consumer Protection tab and then click on the Recent Consumer Alerts link and read two alerts, "I Changed My Mind... Can I Cancel This Contract?" and "Building and Remodeling -- Advice for Homeowners."
These are challenging times for homeowners and contractors. Quality companies want you to check references and be comfortable with them being in your home. They want you to brag about them to your friends and neighbors, and so do I.
If you want to talk to Glenn, call his "Handyman Show" on WJR Radio 760 AM at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Note: This article was accurate at the date of publication. However, information contained in it may have changed.
If you plan to use the information contained herein for any purpose, verification of its continued accuracy is your responsibility.