Brian Taylor – General Manager – Atlantic Solutions Inc. February 11, 2014
I cannot begin to tell you how many times, in the course of my swimming pool career, I have witnessed the result of a customer’s poor hiring decision when choosing someone to construct, renovate, or repair their swimming pool.
To be fair, those of us who are contractors typically end up benefitting from the customer’s decision to hire an unqualified provider but I want to take a moment to discuss why buyers make this decision, what the typical pitfalls are in doing so, and how hiring a licensed professional can help prevent a less than satisfactory experience or, even worse, a hiring nightmare.
First, let’s cover some basics that many decision makers may not know. For the sake of our discussion we are speaking from the law as it applies in the State of North Carolina. The North Carolina law is written as follows (follow link for full law with subsections):
This law was put in place to protect the citizens of North Carolina from having work bid or performed, with a value of $30,000 or more, by individuals who are not licensed by or recognized as licensed by the State of North Carolina.
What the law really does is put in place a set of qualifications for license holders to meet in order to bid and complete jobs valued at or above $30,000. Some of these requirements include:
- That the license holder can prove that they have not had a license revoked in North Carolina or in any other state.
- That the license holder has never been convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude relating to building or contracting, or involving embezzlement or misappropriation of funds or property.
- That the licensee has passed an exam showing proficiency specific to the work that they will be bidding and/or contracting.
- The licensee must prove financial stability, annually, at levels determined by their licensing classification.
So now that we know what it takes to be a North Carolina Licensed General Contractor let’s look at a few common questions that we typically get from our customers:
- “We have a pool company or pool man that is a Certified Pool Operator (CPO) and they really know their stuff. They should be able to do our work right?
- Not necessarily. Many pool service companies and individuals have a fair amount of training, expertise, and certifications but that does not mean they are LICENSED to complete pool repair, renovation, or installation.
Certified Pool Operator certification is a demand of the governing Health Department and certifies the holder has demonstrated knowledge of pool chemistry and facility operation.
A contracting license shows that an individual has demonstrated knowledge of swimming pool construction, repair, and renovation as determined by the State of North Carolina.
- “Anyone can bid the jobs I am looking to get done right?”
- If the anticipated value of the job is $30,000 or more, only a licensed general contractor should be bidding on the job. This is the stage at which most unlicensed bidders get in over their heads as they do not have sufficient expertise to estimate a job while assuring they will have enough money in the job to allow them to complete it properly and to proper code.
- “Well the job is going to be split up into phases. You know like painting the pool, renovating the pump room, and installing a dual drain system.
A. If the total scope of the work to be done is $30,000 or more, only a licensed general contractor should be bidding on the job. You cannot split out phases of a job in order to bypass this requirement. If someone encourages you to split your renovation into separate contracts, they are more than likely trying to skirt the law – illegally.
- “Do I even need to hire a licensed general contractor?”
- If your project is anticipated to be $30,000 or more you need to hire a licensed general contractor.
When you are spending that kind of money, you want to know that the person doing your work is qualified in their field, falls under the domain of a licensing board, and that they have the monetary assets that show that they are not some “here today gone tomorrow” company.
- “I know a guy who can save me a ton of money, who cares if he is licensed?”
A. There is no barrier to entry, in the State of North Carolina, to enter the swimming pool trade. If you secure a business license and have enough money, you can walk into a variety of wholesale companies and buy everything you need to build or repair an in-ground swimming pool. That doesn’t mean that you should be able to or will be able to build an in-ground swimming pool but you can at least get the supplies to try.
This same statement is true of swimming pool repair and renovation. The only thing protecting you from hiring some random person to work on your major asset is you. The question is, why would you even consider hiring someone that isn’t licensed?
Check out your local news stations troubleshooter section or investigative reports specials. Watch the stories about people getting taken or in instances where they have had repair and renovation jobs that have gone wrong. More than likely, at the end of the story, you will hear the reporter say something to the effect of “the company doing the work is not licensed.” It just isn’t worth the risk.
When you hire a licensed general contractor you have someone doing the work that has had to prove that they have demonstrable knowledge of their field of license, has audited proof of financial stability, and most likely carries full insurance coverage. Most importantly they are governed by a licensing board.
- “How can I know if someone really is licensed to bid and complete my work?
A. That is easy. Just ask the contractor for their license number. You can go to www.nclbgc.org where you can type in the license number, the qualifiers name, the company name, etc. to find out if they are licensed AND current with the State of North Carolina. Here is an example of what you will see:
- “What else should I do to make sure that I am hiring the right contractor for the job?”
A. You should ask the contractor plenty of questions.
The first question I would ask is whether or not the contractor is fully insured and if they fully insure their workforce – including any subcontractors they may use. If they are not or do not run, don’t walk, away. The last thing you need is someone getting hurt on your property who does not have insurance coverage.
Ask your contractor for references, check their better business score, and talk to some of their current clients. Notice I didn’t say “or” I said “and”. References are pre- selected to give you a good reflection of the company, the BBB can be quirky, and current project customers can probably tell you the important things such as if the contractor started on time, leaves a clean worksite, is easy to communicate with, and if they are on budget and on schedule.
Make sure you understand your bid proposal and ask questions until you do. Any contractor that takes pride in their trade will not have any problem meeting with you to discuss your quote and explain what will happen when you approve the proposal.
If your contractor asks your for a significant or full payment up front, that is your signal that you should seek out another provider. A modest down payment or payments scheduled at job completion phases is not out of the norm but full payment is a red flag.
- “I am ready to sign my contract and get started, now what?”
A. Depending on the scope of work and size of job, it may be prudent to go over the work plan with your contractor. You will want to know how your project is going to proceed, what stages you can expect, any demands that the project will place on you, and generally you want to know what is going to happen first, second, third and what the anticipated completion date is going to be. You don’t want a surprise at 8:00 AM when your contractor fires up a concrete saw and starts a cascade of tenant calls for instance. You wouldn’t believe how many times we have pool users show up to swim only to find the pool empty for plastering – they typically are not happy. Make sure you know so you can communicate the pool being closed ahead of time.
We hope we have communicated the benefits of hiring a licensed general contractor for your next project. Hiring a licensed contractor and doing your homework by checking the contractor out thoroughly should help you ensure a quality outcome, prevent costly mistakes, protect you from unforeseen pitfalls and liabilities, and deliver you peace of mind knowing that your project is in competent and experienced hands.