There are approximately 40 different types of contractors, each requiring a separate specialty contractor's license. For example, if you want only roofing or plumbing work, you may want to hire a contractor licensed in the particular specialty. A general building contractor may also contract for the specialty work but may need to actually have a specialty contractor do the work. If the job requires more than two types of work on a building, the work should be done by a "licensed" general building contractor. For example, if your kitchen remodeling will involve plumbing, electrical and carpentry work, a licensed general building contractor should be hired. A "B" general building contractor may perform most single "C" specialty trades on a building or may have specialty sub-contractors do all or part of the work.

One of the best ways to select a contractor is to seek out personal recommendations from friends or relatives who recently had work of the type you want completed by a licensed contractor.

If the work you are considering is valued at $500 or more, a valid California Contractor's License is required for the license category in which the contractor is going to be working. If you contract with someone who does not have a license, the Contractors Board may not be able to assist you with a complaint. A remedy in a complaint against an unlicensed contractor may only be available in civil court. This is one more good reason to work only with licensed contractors!

— Excerpt from the Contractors State License Board's useful booklet, 'What You Should Know Before You Hire A Contractor'.

GETTING GOING ON CUSTOM WORK

"The most important consideration when choosing a custom craftsman is trust," says Ludwig Leskovar of Norwich, Vermont. "Whether it's an architect, a carpenter, or a furniture maker, both the contractor and the client need to be on the same wavelength." Walter Beebe-Center, a historic home restorer in Wenham, Massachusetts, agrees. "Rapport is key. Without it, a project can really flop."

It shouldn't take long to find someone you are comfortable with. "Talk to your friends," says Beebe-Center. "Don't waste your time getting three bids and all that. Find someone you know who has had a positive experience with a contractor, then contact that person yourself." Bring snapshots of things you like, or sketch out your ideas. "A drawing, no matter how small or primitive, is a big help," says Leskovar. Avoid the mistake some homeowner make of leaving out important details. "If there are any gray areas, the builder and homeowner should discuss them. Good communication is vital. Without it, the project will take more time—and cost more."

A homeowner should expect that a custom craftsman will anticipate most of the tasks necessary to complete the project. "Someone who is serious about the business knows the techniques involved and the difficulties," says Beebe-Center. "They'll also have the necessary licenses and insurance, and will read professional magazines to hone their craft."

What about pricing? "Different contractors have different strategies," says Leskovar. "Some keep job-cost books and know what specific tasks cost. Other might calculate the hours, and work that way."

"If you're thinking about a project that involves custom furniture, look at a similar piece in a furniture store to get a sense of prices," says Michael O'Shea, a custom builder in Cambridge. Massachusetts. "And think about your project long term. If what you're doing will add to the value of your house, that's money in the bank."

Your overall satisfaction is important too, says, O'Shea. "When you're finished with the project, you want to walk into the room and say, 'Yes! This is exactly what I wanted.'"


—Excerpt from "Renovation Innovation: 7 Ingenious Ideas for Your Home" by Victoria Doudera
Yankee, March 2001 pp. 87-95