Backgrounding A Contractor

Ever hire a home contractor who didn’t do the work?  Or worse, someone who ruined your floor and then vanished when you complained about it?  Well, welcome to the club.

For most of us, the home is the biggest investment we’ve got.  So it makes sense to do a background check before you hire a home builder or home improvement contractor.

I’m not talking about doing a background check for minor matters.  If you’re single with no kids, there’s no need to background the plumber who unclogs your toilet. .

But it’s a whole different unicorn when you’re building a basement or adding a new deck to your backyard.  These are huge projects that require time, money and a commitment to get the job done.  It won’t do for the contractor to disappear on you because he’s broke or on drugs.  So you need to be sure they have the character, competence and resources to do it right.

The Three Things To Look For In Every Contractor
They must be:

  1. Legally allowed to work;
  2. Competent and honest in their work;
  3. Likely to finish the work (Fiscally sound and show commitment)

Below are the five absolute show stoppers.  If you see any of these, cut bait and run!  Don’t even think about hiring them!  And yes, I’ve provided you with all the free links to do your own background check.

  1. He’s Operating Illegally (No License )
    So he’s got a company and the Secretary of State says he really owns it.  Great.  He’s shown you he can pay $150 to reserve a business name.  But can he repair your roof?  I too own a business.  But shoot me dead if you catch me remodeling your kitchen.  Home remodeling takes special skill and training, which is why most states require a special license for it.

    Now it’s possible you’re a free thinking anarchist.  And maybe you just don’t give a fig’s behind if your contractor has a “gubmint” license or not.  After all, “the stinkin state” just wants more money, right?
    But this isn’t about philosophy.  This is about your home.  When they haul away your contractor in handcuffs, just who’s gonna finish your half basement?  And if he did a bad job, how will you get him to redo his shoddy work?  An honest contractor will try to fix it.  But if he’s busted, he can’t.  And good luck getting a refund from a guy who just lost his business!
    How Do I Know My State Requires A License?

    Easy.  First, ask the contractor if he’s licensed to do the work and if not, why not?  He’ll either tell you he doesn’t need a license, make excuses or say he’s got one.  Whatever he says, confirm it with your Secretary of State or your state licensing board.  For a summary of your state’s laws, see each state’s requirements for builders and home improvement contractors.  Or call the numbers listed to find out if he needs a license or already has one. 

    Another approach is to Google your state’s eligibility requirements.  For example, just enter in home builders licensed in Georgia (replace with your state.)  This should tell you if he needs a license or not.
    Where Do I Search For Licenses?
    Want to search for their license yourself?  Then plug in their name in your state’s Occupation Licensing Boards

    Every state’s website is different and has different ways to search for licenses.  But if you can, I recommend you do a general name search without checking off the profession you’re looking for. .In fact, to be safe, I’d try pulling up all licenses holders by last name only.  Otherwise you might enter in a first name when he’s listed under a middle name or vice versa.  If you must list a profession or license type, look for search categories such as building contractor, general contractor, electrical contractor, home improvement contractor or plumber/journeyman/contractor..
    It’s not enough that he has any license.  He must have the right license.  For example, a friend of mine wanted to build a new house on his Georgia farm.  But the contractor he had me background wasn’t qualified to do the job.  The guy was licensed to build barns but not homes! 

    So you can imagine if he was shut down before the job was complete.  My friend could have been roofless and without a contractor!  And then the rain would come…
  2. Complaints About Dishonesty or Bad Work
    If he’s legal, he could still be incompetent.  Or worse, a lousy cheat.  Now is the time to learn about his character.  Be sure to Google his name or company (do both) and then do it again with the following words: suit, lawsuit, litigation, complaints, fraud.
    At first, search without limiting it to a particular state.  You may discover he’s had the same business in other states where people have complained about him. Too many hits?  Then add your state too.
    Search Examples (A partial list with phrases in “”)
    “Conrad Peters” builder complaints
    “Conrad Peters” builder fraud
    “Conrad Peters” “home improvement” complaints
    Conrad Peters builder litigation (name w/o quotes)
    “Equine Farms” complaints (his company)
    “Conrad Peters” builder litigation Georgia
    “Conrad Peters” builder lawsuit Georgia
    “Conrad R Peters” (middle initial)
    Be sure to also Google the contact information on their business card.  Include their phone number, email address and physical address.  See How To Google By Their Address,  Phone Number and Email.  For how to Google using quotes, no quotes and their middle name, see Google Like A Pro (Quick Tips & Tricks) and People With Common Names-How To Background Them..
    Also check out his business with the national Better Business Bureau Complaint Database. You can search by website, company name, phone number or email address.  Keep in mind that a new business may not have complaints.  I recommend a search with and without their state.  It’s possible his new company in GA has no complaints, but his old one in AL does.  This only works if he used the same name for both companies (not uncommon).
  3. The Guy Was Born Yesterday (New Business, But No Work History)
    It’s not enough that he has no complaints.  If he’s experienced and good at what he does, his name should be all over the Internet.  So beware of someone who appears to have no past.  If he’s over 40 and suddenly popped into existence two years ago, something is wrong.  It could mean he’s just new and inexperienced.  But if that’s the case, why do you want him working on your home?
    But it could also be something more sinister.  For example, he could have formed a new company to hide a sordid history of shoddy work and dishonest dealings.  You’d never know because the complaints were against a different business.
    How Can I See Prior Companies Or A Job History?
    Does a Google search of his name or business show a LinkedIn account with no prior companies or job history?  Or a search at the Secretary of State shows that his business is less than two years old?  Here’s how to learn what he was doing before then. 

    While at the Secretary of State’s website, search for him by both his business name and his first and last name.  It may be that he’s been the officer or agent of other companies that either went bankrupt or received a lot of complaints against them. You can also search their name to see if they ever owned companies in other states.
    If you find his other companies, Google these for lawsuits and complaints as well.  Also Google any addresses or phone numbers connected with these companies.  See also the businesses or work he’s had previously, by looking for his prior employment at the Age, Employment DOB websites.
  4. Recent Bankruptcies (Personal or Business)
    Is your contractor having money trouble?  Can he handle your project without going broke halfway in between?  Check out how he’s handled his finances in the recent past.  For example,  I found that one contractor had two bankruptcies in 2013.  One was personal, and the other was his former company.  To escape the heat, he formed a new company in the same year and started all over again!
    If you still want to use him, be to sure to ask: What happens if you start building my house and don’t have the finances to finish the project? “How will I be protected?” “Do you have safeguards now that you didn’t have in 2013?” “Are you bonded and insured?”  To find out if he or his businesses have had recent bankruptcies, see the Sleuth For The Truth blog on Finding Free Bankruptcy Records..
  5. Crimes That Show Moral Depravity
    Don’t worry about the DUI from 20 years ago.  Pay attention to recent acts of violence, sex offenses involving minors and anything to indicate he’s depraved or dishonest.

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