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unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-05-2006, 04:52 PM   #1
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unlicensed home repairs?

I'm hoping the exprienced homeowners / landlords on this board can help me with this one...

I've got a rental house in need of repairs to the bathroom -- shower needs replacing and, possibly, some of the sub-floor below needs to go, though we don't know that yet.

My sister, who lives in the house, has found a "great guy" who can fix the whole thing. He's given me a worst-case scenario of $4K for the labor, the shower, the tile, the flooring (if need be), etc. He says he can meet my requirement that all of this meet with the city inspector's approval.

However... I asked for references (he gave me one fellow contractor's number), and a license, which he says he's tested for but which has "been on hold for 4 years" due to State of California licensing board backlog and due to their putting him into a "special category" of applicants requiring more extensive background checks, etc. (purely a statistical issue -- luck of the draw and not anything he did.)

I'm not experience in this sort of thing -- the sellers of this house brought everything up to snuff when I bought it (city inspected and approved), so I've not done much in the interim.

Questions:

Does this license story sound fishy, or do these types of bureucratic nightmares really happen?

Is his insurance any good under these circumstances, or am I exposed if he hurts himself?

Has anyone in CA had work like this done and does that $4K seem reasonable? Would someone with a license charge more than that? (Translation - is there a cost benefit to taking on extra risk?)

Any advice most welcome, even advice of the "are you out of your mind" variety.

Caroline
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-05-2006, 05:14 PM   #2
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

Caroline,

Lately, just getting a warm body to come out and give a bid is a challenge.

Under California law, any job over $500 is supposed to be done by a licensed contractor.

A property owner can get a permit on their own behalf and either do the work themselves or act as their own general contractor.

Beyond this, there are many "under the table" things that people do, but one should be aware of the risks...
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-05-2006, 06:12 PM   #3
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

I don't know about CA laws, but a couple of other things.
* PUSH for some real live consumer references you can talk to.
*Avoid prepayment.* You make have to advance the materials.* You might consider going with him to Home Depot (or wherever) to buy the materials.
* Perhaps you can insist the job pass any* and all city inspections before final payment.
However,* if this guy turns out to be a real contractor find, treat him like a prince, as he is a rare bird.*
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-05-2006, 08:00 PM   #4
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Caroline
My sister, who lives in the house, has found a "great guy" who can fix the whole thing.* He's given me a worst-case scenario of $4K for the labor, the shower, the tile, the flooring (if need be), etc.* He says he can meet my requirement that all of this meet with the city inspector's approval.
I've never met anyone who says "No, sorry, I can't get it up to code" or "No, there's no possible way to afford this" before the job starts. You wait until after you have the customer's money and complete the demolition, then you "discover" the problems and the higher costs.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Caroline
However... I asked for references (he gave me one fellow contractor's number), and a license, which he says he's tested for but which has "been on hold for 4 years" due to State of California licensing board backlog and due to their putting him into a "special category" of applicants requiring more extensive background checks, etc. (purely a statistical issue -- luck of the draw and not anything he did.)
Yeah, right-- good one! He must be one of them extra-special "double secret probation" contractors on a secret mission. Ask him who to talk to at the licensing bureau about this one. Or tell him you'll call the BBB to ask them how he can have his application accelerated.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Caroline
Does this license story sound fishy, or do these types of bureucratic nightmares really happen?
Yes and yes, but I doubt that this bureaucratic snafu is as he's describing it. Apparently it's easier to sell tell you his sad tale of woe than it is to get the situation resolved in his favor.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Caroline
Is his insurance any good under these circumstances, or am I exposed if he hurts himself?
Probably not and heck yeah. If he has workmen's comp insurance, and gives you the number of his policy, then you can call the CA license people to check on the status of his insurance. Otherwise he "hurts" his back on your job and you pay the medical bills. Or he takes your money, does the demolition for a day or two, and somehow never comes back.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Caroline
Has anyone in CA had work like this done and does that $4K seem reasonable? Would someone with a license charge more than that? (Translation - is there a cost benefit to taking on extra risk?)
It's possible but you can determine that from getting more than one proposal. A guy with a license charges more because he's assuming the risk of non-code work and jobsite injuries. (He's also trained to avoid those problems!) You could assume those risks on your own but the expenses of litigation, remediation, and someone else's medical bills is far more than $4K. It's probably also more than the $8K the job would actually end up costing from a reputable contractor.

There's one tactic to bring this to a swift resolution. Assuming you decide to pursue this relationship past its ethics issues, ask this "great guy" to get himself hired by his fellow contractor as a sub with the fellow's license & workman's comp insurance. Protect yourself by ensuring that the license # of that fellow contractor is actually assigned to that fellow, is still in effect, still has a workmen's comp policy, and has no outstanding (unresolved) complaints. Then the "great guy" can get to work and give you a great job while earning a bit of great money for his fellow contractor.

My guess is that the "great guy" will have some "great reasons" why that just won't work out. I'm suspecting that the "fellow contractor" knows all about this "great guy", wants nothing to do with him, and wouldn't hire him with your 11-foot pole. But this tactic gives you a way to bow out without making anyone feel bad. Except you.

If you can't find a contractor to come out to the house, try the approach of going to Lowe's or Home Depot and asking for their estimate on bathroom work. (It wouldn't hurt to go to both and tell them you're shopping for a great deal.) They'll send one of their "approved" contractors out to give you a price. When the estimator comes out you can also discuss this "great guy" with them, and I bet you'll hear some "great stories"...
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-05-2006, 09:01 PM   #5
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

In short: this sort of thing usually ends badly. The place gets ripped up, surprises are unveiled, the price goes up...wayyyy up. The guy stops showing up halfway through. The guy evaporates completely halfway through, never to return. You find out years later that the work wasnt actually to code or something was done wrong and its going to cost twice as much to fix it.

IF you decide to go ahead, as mentioned above, you can get a permit and act as your own GC and he can do the work under your guidance, but I still think the $500 limit for an unlicensed contractor applies. Not that anyone will go to much trouble to check on that.

I'm going to diverge with Nords on the lowes/home depot thing. They hire the cheapest guy they can find to do the work. When they find someone cheaper, they move to that guy. They pad the heck out of the jobs because theres TWO entities that have to make a profit. My dad had home depot out to give an estimate for some bathroom tile and it was ridiculous. The estimator didnt know crap, so the 'estimate' couldnt possibly end up being right. The job estimate was easily 2x what it should have been.

Wait for a decent licensed guy, or keep asking people until you find someone who knows somebody.
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-05-2006, 09:18 PM   #6
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

My brother hired a guy referred by a home stager, he claimed to be licenced.

Mid-way in the project I observed workmanshi* that didn't pass muster.* Called the stager who looked at the work and shuttered.* Turned out that the guy, a friend of a friend, wasn't licenced.

A licence is a MINIMUM unless you are hiring a laborer you are prepared to supervise.*
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-05-2006, 11:57 PM   #7
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute Fuzzy Bunny
I'm going to diverge with Nords on the lowes/home depot thing.
We got bids from a Home Depot dude for installing a bunch of windows. We also got a quote from Lowes. The Lowes quote was about 1/3 the HD quote. In fact, the combined cost of windows + installation was less than HD charged just for the same windows alone. The installer did a great job, too. Your mileage may vary, but in my area, Lowes seems to pass-through the contractor cost, while HD adds huge margins.
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-06-2006, 09:12 AM   #8
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

I havent seen a lowes contractor face to face myself, but they seem to have more on the ball than home depot in other areas.

It might also come back to who is managing the store and who is running the subcontractor department within the store.
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-06-2006, 10:08 AM   #9
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?


Personally I wouldn't hire anyone who is not licensed. I believe if you do, and there is any home damage while he works on your house it will NOT be covered by homeowners insurance. You might check into it before you go any further.

You should check the CA state contractor's board before hiring any contractor, if you do find one to hire.

Here is a link on what to do before hiring any contractor in CA. The NON contractor's usually don't follow the payment schedule, from my experience. Licensed ones don't always follow also, so it's good info to know.

http://www.cslb.ca.gov/forms/wysk.pdf
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-06-2006, 11:39 AM   #10
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute Fuzzy Bunny
I'm going to diverge with Nords on the lowes/home depot thing.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
If you can't find a contractor to come out to the house, try the approach of going to Lowe's or Home Depot and asking for their estimate on bathroom work. (It wouldn't hurt to go to both and tell them you're shopping for a great deal.) They'll send one of their "approved" contractors out to give you a price. When the estimator comes out you can also discuss this "great guy" with them, and I bet you'll hear some "great stories"...
I posted that, looked at its interpretations, and thought "Nah, the post is long enough already." But if even TH can misinterpret my words then I'll start over.

I'm not advocating that you should use Home Depot or Lowes, or their contractors, to do the work. I'm suggesting that they're much better at getting estimators out to our houses than we are, and that this is one more way to chat with someone in the business about your "great guy" to see if his reputation is out there.

I think the good contractors are good enough to attract business without the help of Lowes or Home Depot. We used Lowes for a new kitchen counter. The guy mentioned his 40 years in the business but he still measured wrong (and we didn't catch the mistake). Home Depot's estimate on our stairway recarpting was so heavily padded, with dollars not carpet padding, that we're probably going to (*sigh*) do it on our own. Besides their estimator came across like Jim Cramer on cocaine-- not a guy I want to have in our house with carpet tools.

Sorry, Caroline, I realize that this board hasn't helped you find a good contractor, only to avoid the bad ones. Unfortunately the best way to go about it is still the hardest-- word of mouth from people like property managers, realtors, or happy customers. I don't think it can be done from the Yellow Pages...
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-06-2006, 12:17 PM   #11
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?


Caroline, the best I can say is trust your gut. I've done well doing that, but it took some time to learn. -kate
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-06-2006, 01:08 PM   #12
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

Sorry Nords, still on the divergence route...I understood your post.

The two times I've had a Home Depot estimator come out, and the one time my Dad had one out, the guy knew absolutely nothing about anything. None of them were contractors or former contractors, all three were retired guys with a tape measure and a form to fill out.

When I asked my two estimators (a fence guy and a carpet guy) any question at all they just shrugged and said "I'm just here to measure...". I'm thinking stuff like "will the job include levelling that area the fence is going on or just up and over it?" and "will the baseboards be pulled and need to be replaced after the carpet is laid out?" are pretty good things to know when preparing an estimate and job statement.

Just two home depots, no lowes, so maybe its a localized problem.
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-06-2006, 03:13 PM   #13
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

i've got a really handy handyman who does stuff in my house. i wouldn't have him do cabinetry on a yacht but he's plenty good enough for this tear-down. i have no problem using an unlicensed guy here and i intend to sell as-is eventually.

but if i was having work done on a rental property i'd only go strictly by the book. i would not take a chance with liability involving renters.

about 5-10 years ago my mother had a great handyman for her house. but then the guy won the florida lottery. i think it was like $40 mil. good help is so hard to find.
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-06-2006, 03:18 PM   #14
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

nm!
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-06-2006, 06:17 PM   #15
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

Nerdy Man?
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-07-2006, 11:20 AM   #16
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

Quote:
Sorry, Caroline, I realize that this board hasn't helped you find a good contractor, only to avoid the bad ones.
Please don't apologize, Nords!!!* Eliminating the bad contractors is probably 90% of the battle!*

I've learned a LOT from this thread -- thanks to you and to everyone who took time to think about the question and give me considered replies (and the link -- very useful!)

I really appreciate it,
Caroline
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-07-2006, 11:23 AM   #17
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

Licensed, bonded, insured... 'Nuff said!
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?
Old 04-07-2006, 04:37 PM   #18
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Re: unlicensed home repairs?

For simple jobs, HD and Lowes may work out. My one experience was with ceiling fans. HD was selling Hunter fans for a great price, and had an offer to install the fans for some price that seemed reasonable. Contractors came out on time, and while I had only paid to have one fan installed, I negotiated on the spot for more work. See, all three fans were going in the second floor, guy had to climb in the attic anyway, how much more to just cut the holes and install and wire the boxes? Two guys took all of 20 seconds to say, "sure, well pocket some extra cash for an extra 30 minutes of work!". They did a great job, and the fan they installed is completely silent and wobble free. The ones I installed eventually were almost silent and pretty much wobble free .
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