Joe Boutin: How to find a contractor in southern Vermont

This commentary is by Joe Boutin, a resident of Sunderland and a small construction contractor in southern Vermont.

The governor just vetoed a bill, H.157, that would have provided consumers some protection surrounding hiring a construction contractor. 

The governor believes it would hurt small contractors, who would need to register with the state for jobs over $3,500. The registration fees would be $75 for an individual and $250 for a company. I guess the governor doesn’t think small contractors can afford these fees, that it would unfairly pit them against large contractors who could afford this kind of money.

So, with the spirit of helping people find a contractor in the southern end of the state, I would like to offer suggestions, although this bill would have required all of this.

First, ask for insurance. Ask the contractor for a certificate of insurance. This is a certificate issued by the contractor’s insurance company which lists the consumer’s name (your name) on it, the contractor’s name, and the insurance company’s name, address and phone number. It also should state the amount that the insurance will cover, as well as if the coverage is currently active. It doesn’t cost any money to the consumer or the contractor to have a certificate of insurance issued and usually they send it on the same day asked via email.

Next, have some sort of a contract in writing with both parties signed and dated. A contract can be just about anything you want it to be — time and material, set price, labor plus, you buy materials and just pay for labor. It can be simple or complex. For larger jobs, I recommend it be detailed, which takes work from the consumer but doesn’t lead to misunderstanding later. 

Expect the contractor to make a profit and cover overhead, aside from wages. If there is a business to run, then there must be profit and overhead charges for the business to survive. Be clear with the contractor how they are charging for this, either with material mark-up or a percentage on labor and material cost. But there are other ways, of course. A 10% to 15% markup on materials is typical, but I do know some charge 30% to 50%.

Next where to look? H.157 would have provided a statewide registry that demanded the contractor have the first two issues that I have gone through. The governor says this is not needed, for there are many ways to find a contractor. He says social media and consumer sites are good. 

Be careful here. People get played all the time on the internet and this is not different. They have figured out how to represent themselves, along with references that are bogus. He also says consumer listings. I guess that’s published periodicals, which honestly is hit or miss. He ends with word of mouth. That’s a good one, no doubt, if you know someone who can help.

If you don’t know anyone to ask, then first ask locally, a local business owner. Maybe at your country store or your oil company. Usually, a business will not offer a name that could be questionable. 

If you call a contractor and do get a callback and the person seems interested in your work, ask for references, at least two or three. Ask that one be within the last six months. Don’t be shy about this. It’s typical and honestly expected by the professional. If you are satisfied, then return to the contractor with the other items I have written here.

Bill H.157 would have provided all this for you. You could go to the state registry and find a contractor near you who will have insurance and will deliver a contract. But the governor killed that. He believes there is no need for those regulations here in Vermont.

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