How to Hire for Home Repairs

Are you considering a home remodel or building a new house? Here are some questions you should ask before you choose a contractor or other licensed professional.

How long have you been in business?

In a community as small as ours, word gets around if you don’t know what you’re doing. In big metropolitan areas, there’s an endless supply of people who need work done and have no idea whether a contractor is any good, but in the Ukiah Valley it’s hard to stay in business for very long doing shoddy or unscrupulous work.

Are you licensed and insured?

A license doesn’t guarantee quality work, but it does increase the chances that your contractor will have the skills to do the job. Be sure your contractor is licensed to do the specific work you need—and that he or she carries both liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

Hiring a licensed and insured professional not only increases the likelihood of quality, but it may also provide financial security if something goes wrong.

Years ago, a local homeowner hired a licensed tree trimming company. Sadly, one of the tree trimmers fell and broke his back. The homeowner felt terrible for the injured man, but relieved that he had chosen a licensed contractor, assuming the tree trimmer’s care would be covered by the company’s insurance.

Come to find out, the tree trimming company had not renewed its insurance and without insurance, their license was no longer valid. So, the homeowner had to go to his homeowner’s insurance carrier to file a claim. Much to his surprise (and disappointment), his policy required tree trimming to be done by a licensed professional and it didn’t cover claims when work was completed by unlicensed contractors. So, the homeowner ended up paying for the tree trimmer’s medical bills out of his own pocket. The moral of the story is to verify license and insurance.

Is everything agreed to in writing?

Whenever you hire someone to work on your house, I recommend putting agreements in writing. A contract reduces the chances of misunderstandings and protects you against unscrupulous contractors. Contracts should include a detailed scope of work, a budget, and a timeline, so everyone’s expectations match. This reduces confusion about who is doing what.

I recently hired a contractor to repair my deck, which included tearing off the old railing. The contract we signed didn’t specify that he’d put up a new railing. I had simply assumed, which turned out to be an expensive and time-consuming mistake on my part.

How should we communicate?

Another way to avoid miscommunications is to state your preferences up front. Let your contractor know how often you would like updates and your preferred method of communication: texts, calls, emails, or in-person chats. A word to the wise, any time there’s an agreement, follow it up with a text or email so you have a written record. Verbal promises are hard to prove in court.

Can you provide references for similar work you’ve done?

Do not be afraid to ask for references. And you should feel free to ask to see some of his or her work to confirm that the quality is up to your standards. Trust me when I say that just because someone has a contractor’s license doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. I have one and you wouldn’t want me to do something as simple as rehanging a closet door.

Of course, a contractor will only provide the names of people who are happy with his or her work, so I recommend doing a little digging. Check with friends and neighbors and those in the industry.

Once when I was thinking of putting in a pool, I asked around and discovered that one of my friends had had a terrible experience with the contractor I was thinking of hiring. He said, “If you hire this guy, I will never speak to you again.” Apparently, my friend had had a disastrous experience where his pool cracked in half within a year because the contractor hadn’t used the correct underlying base.

If you hire a licensed and insured contractor with a good reputation, chances are everything will go well and you’ll be pleased with your new or improved home.

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery.

Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.

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