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Tue, Jan. 21

Home Improvement: Start right ... with those in the know

Hiring a contractor for building or remodeling a house involves a number of steps, but it does not have to be difficult.

The Arizona Registrar of Contractors - a state agency - and the Yavapai County Contractors Association - a trade organization - help guide consumers to make the process flow as smoothly as possible.

"Contracting is a business that should be approached with the same attitude that would apply in any other business dealing: buyer beware," states a two-page guide to consumers on the Registrar's website,

Both the Registrar and the association stress the need to hire a licensed contractor in part because doing so will protect the consumer in cases of disputes involving workmanship.

State law requires all contractors who perform residential and commercial remodeling, and construction to have a license and obtain a bond, the guide states.

The state exempts work that costs less than $1,000 for labor and materials, does not require a building permit and is not part of a larger project.

Aspiring contractors must pass a business management test and possibly a trade test, depending on the nature of the construction work, the guide states. Contractors also must list work history and experience.

Once a homeowner decides on a contractor, he or she can call the Registrar's office or the contractors association, or log on to the Registrar's website to find out whether the contractor is licensed and in good standing, the guide states. The website also discloses whether the contractor has a history of complaints or a suspended or revoked license, or is on probation.

Homeowners also need to get the correct name and spelling of the contractor, the contractor's license number and the name of the company's owner. The Registrar issues an identification card indicating the contractor's license number and trade classifications.

Licensed contractors also require workers' compensation and liability insurance, which protects homeowners from putting their property at risk in the event of an injury or property damage, according to Sandy Griffis, manager of the Yavapai County Contractors Association. The association has more than 300 members.

After verifying the contractor's license status, prospective clients also should ask for at least three references before hiring a contractor, Griffis said. The next step is to plan a project carefully and make detailed plans.

"They should have a contract or an agreed-upon scope of work," she said. "Just make sure you are comfortable with the project and you have an understanding of what is taking place."

Griffis also recommends obtaining at least three detailed bids from prospective contractors. The successful contractor must inform a client about the lien rights of labor, suppliers and subcontractors, she explained. The homeowner may seek protection from any liens by requiring lien releases from all parties in exchange for payment.

Griffis advises homeowners to obtain a contract in writing and understand its terms before signing it.

"It should never be verbal, and they should always mail the letter return receipt requested," she said.

The next three steps are to be cautious about advancing money for work not yet completed, putting all changes in writing and making frequent inspections, Griffis stated.

She recommends doing business with local contractors, visiting their showrooms, and selecting a contractor who is "prompt, professional and communicates well."

Griffis explained permits are important because their intent is to ensure safety for the homeowner and his or her family.

Homeowners can check with the local jurisdictions to verify whether contractors obtained the needed permits, Griffis said.

Homeowners also may check from time to time on a contractor's progress, and request that the contractor publish a notice of completion once the work is done, Griffis advised.

For more information, call the association at 778-0040, or log onto the Registrar's website. The Registrar maintains an office in Prescott at 240 S. Montezuma St., Suite 202B; the phone number is 445-5710.

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