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How Do I Find a ­Trustworthy Contractor?

Ask around when looking for service

I have to admit it: I’m very lucky. My husband is a talented Maryland Home Improvement Commission licensed and insured contractor, so I know a guy I can trust when my home needs renovation or repair. Of course I may be partial.
    We’re not all so lucky, and we’ve all heard horror stories about less than reputable contractors who do shoddy work, don’t complete work they’ve been paid to do or charge too much for a job. In the worst cases, these contractors aren’t licensed or insured so there’s little recourse when the person disappears or their work fails after a short time.
    “Only homeowners who hire licensed contractors are protected by the state’s Home Improvement Guaranty Fund,” advises Maureen O’Connor of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. This fund compensates homeowners who suffer economic damages at the hands of a licensed home improvement contractor. “No coverage is provided if the contractor is not properly licensed.”
    Friends and family are the best place to start when looking for trustworthy service, according to the Federal Trade Commission (www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0242-hiring-contractor). Ask around to see if you know anyone who’s had work done recently; then ask if you can come see the completed work.
    If you have a contractor in mind and don’t know a past customer, ask for references.
    For more protection, follow the advice of the Maryland Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational & Professional Licensing: “Contact us to verify licensure status of contractors before they are hired to make repairs.” Do that at www.dllr.state.md.us/
license/mhic/mhiccon.shtml.
    You can also look up a contractor’s name or business name for licensing on the Maryland Home Improvement Commission website.
    In addition to checking on license status, also ask to see proof of the contractor’s general liability insurance.
    “If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is,” warns Maryland Department of Labor’s O’Connor. “Too often, we see that homeowners who hire the cheapest contractor end up paying the most money when they fall victim to an unlicensed contractor.”