How to Choose a Contractor

July 2015


by Keith Wilder, CGP, CAPS


My starting point is How to Choose a Contractor.


Scenario: Jane wants to build a deck. She’s not sure who to hire and, as with most homeowners, trust is an issue, so she thinks about all her friends who could possibly do the work. Then she ran into me and asked for some advice. Here’s what I told her…


The first thing I would recommend is to go to your local supply house like Haney’s or Builders, maybe Colville Valley Concrete Company, because they know who’s who in the building world. They hear it continuously about who does good work and who doesn’t. Second, word of mouth is good. Who did your neighbors or friends hire? Did they have a good experience with the company? And third, always check your contractor’s references… make sure they’re licensed. Go to www.lni.wa.gov. There you can search by their name, UBI number or their registration numbers. Also check how long they’ve been registered and if there are any pending or past legal actions. Plus our local Spokane Home Builders Association is a great resource for finding a contractor. Check out the membership directory on www.shba.com.


As a homeowner, your best bet is to find somebody who “knows.” If you don’t really know, find someone who does. References and local business referrals are important because, in the State of Washington, you don’t have to “know” anything to be a contractor. There are no tests involved. All you have to do is buy the license, insurance and a bond and you too could be a licensed contractor. You even have to be wary of Angie’s List because their referral service is based on payment. For me to be on Angie’s List, I pay them and I’m approved. It sounds good in the commercials for Johnny Homeowner, but they’re biased. It’s like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It’s all about the financials and that’s the reality of it.


As for the benefits of choosing a licensed contractor versus a neighbor building a deck, I’ll give a couple of Contractor Nightmare Stories…


If an unlicensed contractor falls off your roof, they can sue you. A licensed contractor has their own insurance to cover that fall because State law requires it; hence, you have limited liability for any injuries that occur on your property.


In another case, if an unlicensed contractor does a plumbing job that leaks and dry-rots your whole bathroom out, you get the bill for it and you won’t have an avenue for recourse. Licensed contractors can get fines for doing any plumbing because the State requires plumbers to be licensed separately. When you hire a licensed contractor, the State requires the contractor to provide a one-year warranty which includes parts and labor to fix anything that potentially might be a problem with the contracted work. All in all, when you hire an unlicensed contractor, you get no warranty. Anything that goes wrong is the homeowner’s responsibility.


You can check out more tips at the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries website on “What You Should Know About Hiring a Contractor, Remodeler or Handyman” at www.hiringacontractor.lni.wa.gov or call 800-647-0982.