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Some Things to Consider Before Hiring a Contractor

Investing a little time and energy in planning and obtaining bids for services goes a long way to ensure you are satisfied with the finished results of your fuels reduction project. Prices may vary as much as the approach to completing your project will. There are many different approaches to achieving your project goals. You may embrace browsing with goats to control vegetation or prefer the finished look of hand clearing with chips to use elsewhere. Be sure to plan how you will manage to retain the condition you create long term. The initial work may be costly and ongoing maintenance is required to retain what you have created.

First, use a licensed contractor.  In general, all persons or businesses constructing or altering, moving, wrecking, or demolishing any building, highway, road, parking facility, railroad, excavation or other structure, project, development or improvement must be licensed as a contractor if the total cost of labor and materials for a project is $500 or more. A license is also needed to do any work as a subcontractor or specialty contractor, and persons engaged in the business of home improvement.

1.  Plan your project carefully.  Define the scope of work to be completed and mark the boundaries.  You should consider using colored flagging or chalk to mark the vegetation for treatment.  Describe the desired condition after the treatment has taken place.

2.  Shop around before hiring a contractor.  Check the yellow pages, online and with friends and family for a personal referral.  The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County maintains a list of contractors for vegetation management for their projects and the public at www.areyoufiresafe.com.

3.  Get at least three written bids on your project.  Obtaining at least three written bids will give you a good idea if the pricing is fair for the work you want completed.

4.  When requesting bids, provide all contractors with accurate plans or drawings that will enable them to determine the scope and cost of work. 

5.  Is the contractor licensed? Check with the:

Make sure the contractor is properly licensed, and check the status and disciplinary history of the license or certification.

Required licenses in the State of California include:

SCL - State Licensed Contractor
LTO - Licensed Timber Operator
PCA - Licensed Pest Control Advisor
RPF - Registered Professional Forester
QAL - Qualified Applicators License

6.  Check out contractors with your local building department, trade associations or unions, consumer protection agency, and the Better Business Bureau.

7.  Does the contractor have a reputation for quality? Most contractors will readily provide you with a list of references. It is recommended that these referenced projects be a maximum of three (3) years old. Keep in mind, though, that there are a lot of contractors who are just starting out, their work might be as good or better than contractors who have been in business for many years.

8.  Pay only 10 percent of the project price or $1,000 as a down payment, whichever is less, and make sure your contract provides for a "retention", or withholds a portion of the total price to be paid when the project is complete.

9.  Make sure everything you and your contractor have agreed to be included in your contract, and don't sign anything until you understand and agree with all terms and conditions.

10.  Ask your contractor about inconveniences that may occur, and plan accordingly.

11.  Keep a job file.  Having all the information in one place will make it easier for you to manage the project.

12.  Take precautions to prevent mechanic's liens from being filed against your property and ask for lien releases from subcontractors and materials suppliers.

13.  Make frequent inspections of the work, including a final walk-through prior to final payment being made.

14.  If problems or disagreements occur, try first to negotiate with the contractor.

15.  Does the contractor have liability and workers’ compensation insurance? If so, how much? The contractor can easily provide this information by obtaining a Certificate of Insurance from his insurance company should you choose to request it. If the contractor doesn't have insurance, you can be liable if any of his workers are hurt on your property!

It is preferable to address these issues prior to engaging with a contractor than after problems have arisen with the work on your property.  A little up front time and energy will give you the end results you desire while also giving you peace of mind.