Hiring a contractor after a total wild fire loss in California

Probably the best tip we can offer on the contractor’s hiring front is to check a builder’s license or the registration of a home improvement vendor to see if the candidate you’re thinking of has problems in the past that could point to problems in the future.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs Contractors State License Board is a good place to start. This is a website where you can verify a contractor’s license online. Googling “Check Contractor License California” should transport you easily to the Board’s license check page, where you can search for license number, company name, personal name, etc.

Previous testing of a license can save many problems in rebuilding your property. We learned this the hard way after hiring a paver contractor years ago to repave a driveway. It was only after the contractor broke his contract and that we realized that we were not his first victim. If we had known about the license check website, it would have saved us a lot of trouble.

A license check also helps you avoid hiring an unlicensed contractor, which is a known hazard after catastrophic fire damage. Contractor licenses are designed to protect the public from unscrupulous souls; do not be tempted to ignore this protection. The state licensing office also publishes a checklist for homeowners to download and follow.

It asks for useful things like:

Have you received at least 3 local references from the contractors you are considering?

Did you call the contractor first or did they call you?

Will the developer get a permit before the work starts?

Have you read and understood your contract?

This contract is, by the way, an important part of the reconstruction process; a contract is a legal document, so read before signing and ask questions before committing yourself.

Some important points that belong in a contract for reconstruction are the time of commencement and end of the work, a detailed description of the work to be done, the material to be used and the equipment to be installed, any down payments required and a timetable for payments.

You should also receive a “notice to the owner” from your contractor describing liens and ways to prevent them.

The Licensing Committee notes: “Even if you pay your contractor, a lien can be transferred to your home by unpaid workers, subcontractors or material suppliers.

A lien can result in you paying twice or, in some cases, losing your home to foreclosure.

One final thought: after a disaster such as a wildfire, local contractors are in short supply.

Prices may reflect this fact, and rapid reconstruction may not be an option, given the facts imposed by supply and demand.

However, when selecting your contractor, make certain that the repairs and rebuilding are on a time line you can live with. Also, it is always good practice to walk the job every day, so your contractor knows you are paying attention to what they are doing.