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How to do a contractor license check before hiring a pro

The most important decision you’ll make during a bathroom remodel doesn’t involve picking colorful tile or a cool shower head, it’s choosing the right people for the job. This is why it’s important to perform a contractor license check before you sign the dotted line.

Unfortunately, not everybody who claims to be a remodeling contractor is legitimate. There are scammers in every industry, including this one. Making sure potential contractors have the proper license confirms they are serious about being in business and following the rules.

In the U.S, there’s a patchwork of rules regarding general contractor licenses. Specialized trade contractors (such as electricians and plumbers) have to meet requirements for training and certification, but such requirements are rare for general contractors. Some jurisdictions, but not all, require contractors to have insurance or a surety bond,which guarantees they will act in accordance with certain laws. So how do you vet your contractor effectively? Here are a few tools to get you started:

Online contractor license check

Contractor licenses are granted at the state or local level, so you may have to do a little digging to find the right authority in your area. In New York, for example, home improvement contractors are licensed at the local level. If they operate in New York City, the city of Buffalo, and the counties of Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, Putnam, or Rockland (just to name a few) they need to obtain and maintain a license with the appropriate local jurisdiction.

New York City has an online tool that allows you to check a license. You can search by license type, license number, contractor’s name, business name, or trade name.

Other states and cities have similar tools. Some even allow you to search for complaints:

To conduct a contractor license check in other places, do an online search such as “check contractor license in [your city or state].”

More things to verify

Making sure the contractor’s license is valid is only the first step in screening a contractor. You also want to make sure he or she has the right insurance, including liability and worker’s comp.

  • Liability and property insurance cover any property damage or injuries that might occur while the contractor is working on your home. (Accidents do happen.)
  • Worker’s compensation insurance covers the people who work for the contractor in case of injuries while working on your property. Without it, an injured worker may seek payment under your homeowner’s insurance, and if your policy doesn’t pay out enough, it could come out of your pocket.

When you’re interviewing contractors, request a copy of their Certificate of Insurance. If you have any doubts, call the insurance company to confirm the policy is still in effect and will be valid for the duration of your remodeling project.

It’s also a good idea to see if any complaints have been filed against the contractor. Check with the licensing board in your city or state and the Better Business Bureau. If you find one or two complaints, there may be a valid explanation, but you’ll want to ask the contractor about it. If you find a pattern of complaints, that’s a bad sign. You should probably go a different route. Asking for references is also an effective way to get honest feedback from other homeowners.

If you’re concerned about hiring a good contractor, leave the hiring to Block. We check the licenses and thoroughly vet all the contractors working on your remodel.