One of the first things I learned when we were renovating our home was that license checks on contractors is pretty much a formality but it tells you nothing about the contractors’ background such as lawsuits, problems with other homeowners and current disciplinary record.

All the government and home improvement sites cite that as the first thing to do to ensure your getting an ethical contractor but that is misleading. Those states that do require licensing do not readily disclose disciplinary action until it has been thoroughly investigated and that can take anywhere from a year up to 2 1/2 years depending on the egregiousness of the offense. In the meantime, if you’re someone who is relying strictly on that information along with references you’ll be caught in that window of time where it’s not yet been disclosed but there are complaints levied against the contractor. That’s exactly what happened to us when we checked our contractors’ license which looked clean at that time.

However, 8 months into the project when we hired an attorney to review a potential civil suit against him, lo and behold, the complaints were disclosed on the government website and they were not good to say the least. If we had seen that a year earlier, we would never had hired him. And these were complaints that had been in the works for a couple of years but were just posted.

That’s why I, unlike many of the other sites that offer tips on hiring contractors, am quick to point out that it is simply a formality that you must begin with just to be sure the contractor is licensed and if any disciplinary information is posted, all the more better. But consider your good luck timing wise. The real work begins with your background checks and then you move into the interview process which involves detailed questions that become part of your vetting of the contractor.

So don’t let yourself be lured by license and references checks alone. And that tip about going to a job site will not typically inform the homeowner on the ethical character of the contractor. For the average person who knows nothing about good construction practices, looking at joists, beams and 2×4’s and all that goes into constructing a house, that’s not something they’ll easily understand and frankly know little about.

If you’re truly interested in avoiding the common pitfalls of remodeling, do yourself and your pocket book a favor by getting educated on the pre-renovation process which I cover in my Home Pre-modeling Bootcamp For Women (and The Men Who Love Them!) and have peace of mind with your remodeling project.