How to Hire a Home Improvement Contractor in Florida?

Florida has eliminated the need for some home improvement contractors to be licensed for home improvements services.

New Law HB 735 states: “It specifically precludes local governments from requiring a license for: painting, flooring, cabinetry, interior remodeling, driveway or tennis court installation, handyman services, decorative stone, tile, marble, granite, or terrazzo installation, plastering, stuccoing, caulking, and canvas awning and ornamental iron installation.”

Unlicensed contracting can and does put homeowners at high risk for wrongdoing, being left at the short end of the stick.

Challenges New And Unlicensed Florida Contractors Face

In addition to unlicensed Florida home improvement contractors, there are many new home remodeling contractors moving here to Florida with no local experience. They will be attempting to start a new business with no existing customer base and facing the challenges of different construction practices and codes found here in Florida.

Starting a new business here, with previous experience elsewhere, is a new business nonetheless. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 82.8% of all new contractor businesses fail. It may not be in your best interest to enter the testing ground of a new contracting business.

What Makes db Home Improvements Different?home improvement

We are quite familiar with the challenges of moving a business to Florida as db did in 2006. As we grew our business against strong odds, a big challenge was finding customers looking for the level of service and quality we provide. Our goal was to continue with the customer service level that we found successful up north.

As we were successfully getting established we set out to find 5-star subcontractors like plumbers, electricians, air conditioning companies, glass door companies, and large scope painters that met our needs, keeping our customers in a 5-star mindset. We would refer them to our customers and anyone looking for services we did not provide. One by one, the contractors we referred fell from our standards. We no longer give referrals.

What Happens To Home Improvement Contractors Who Fail?

Many contractors move back home. Other contractors remain in business. Some simply reduce their original standard of quality and service by adapting to a level that helps them compete in the Florida market. Some leave their customers with incomplete projects, shoddy workmanship, or non-compliance with the building departments. 

They will often leave subpar work and a project that cannot be completed without first tearing it all back out. If you are experiencing this right now, and they leave their tools on the job, after you check hospitals for your contractor, call the jails. Oh, the stories we have seen! 

Some get a good start and then fall behind, using the latest contract deposit to finish the previous contract. Once this starts to occur, it snowballs into a downhill spiral ending with unfinished jobs and supplier liens. FYI, when the home improvement contractor has credit with suppliers and does not pay them, homeowners are responsible for paying them for materials used on their home even if they paid the contractor in full.

Examples Of Homeowners Wronged By Contractors

Our calls from homeowners that were left in a bad position by home improvement contractors have significantly risen. Some homeowners have had the funds necessary to correct the disaster left by a previous contractor and were able to hire us to successfully complete their project. We have kept in touch with them through their legal process. 

The last one took a year in court. The contractor wound up getting locked up because he failed to appear for a hearing. The court awarded a judgment to the homeowners of $22,000. The contractor was sentenced to 18 months to pay the judgment back plus other customers he had wronged. The homeowner mentioned getting some satisfaction from seeing him in chains.

How did this happen? It started when the customer walked into the contractor’s beautiful showroom in Stuart. The customer spoke to some existing happy customers while in the showroom and felt confident.

How To Protect Yourself When Hiring A Home Improvement Contractor

These days, more than ever, it is important to research anyone you are considering doing business with, including licensed home improvement contractors. You can find advice on this topic all over the internet. We recommend going much further in-depth than the average advice.

A good place to start is with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. This DBPR is Florida’s homeowner consumer protection. The DBPR regulates Florida state-certified contractors. 

What does that mean to you? Certified home improvement contractors have federal background checks and credit checks. If the contractor’s personal credit is bad, they will allow a cosigner, called a Financially Responsible Officer, to be accountable for the finances of the contractor’s operation. You will see this on the contractor’s certification report.

The DBPR as a service to homeowners has the Florida Homeowners’ Construction Recovery Fund. The recovery fund was started in 1993, and was necessary, often due to certified contractors’ poor contracting habits. This state program is funded by licensing and building permit fees. By using a DBPR state-certified contractor, homeowners can be compensated for contracting gone bad. The customer situation highlighted above would have most likely been partially compensated for his judgment against his contractor had his original contractor been certified. 

Section 489.1425, Florida Statutes: “Florida Homeowners’ Construction Recovery Fund Payment, up to a limited amount, may be available from the florida homeowners’ construction recovery fund if you lose money on a project performed under contract, where the loss resulted from specific violations of florida law by a licensed contractor. for information about the recovery fund and filing a claim, contact the florida construction industry licensing board at: construction industry licensing board, 2601 blair stone road, tallahassee, florida 32399; phone (850)487-1395.”

This recovery fund is neither fun nor easy. The state is helpful, but you may need a lawyer. Seek legal advice if you are thinking you need to take advantage of this service. The fund has paid out over $13,537,395.98 over time. In 2022 the fund had almost $22 million. Accessing the funds can take years with a lawyer.

Process For Confidently Hiring A Home Improvement Contractor

  1. Start your search by calling the DBPR at 850-487-1395.  Here you can check their standing and verify that they are state certified. If the worst occurs you can take advantage of the recovery fund.
  2. Check with your local building department. They are often the first to hear of contractor complaints and they are the ones governing up-to-date insurance. They will be notified by insurance carriers if the contractor’s policy has lapsed.
  3. Search ‘Sunbiz license search’. This will tell you how many years the contractor has actually been in business in Florida.
  4. Do a Google search for the business owner’s name and phone number separately and together. Also, hit the news and images tab during the search. You may be surprised at what comes up. If you are on FaceBook you can check that as well. I like to see a business page that anyone can comment on.
  5. Look for truth in advertising and communication. We have found that companies that can’t express their services accurately, have poor overall communication. For example, “Affordable Contracting” can’t be affordable for everyone. Replacement hurricane window complaints, wow, “buy 2 get one free”. Sample windows to show customers are not free. These replacement window companies aren’t “getting the next guy to pay” for your free windows, you are.  Also, years ago, I was finishing a job and explained to the customer that she had gotten a great price. She said, “I know. I called two companies that advertised they would beat any written estimate but they couldn’t beat your price.” Why say it then?
  6. Avoid lead generation companies such as Home Adviser, Angies List, Thumbtack, Houzz, BuildZoom, or any online presence that does not do the work themselves. 
  7. Avoid contractors that are on the New York stock exchange, such as Home Depot or Lowes. With their subcontractors, it seems like the customer does not get the results they are paying for. Reading many of their reviews and from our own customers telling us past experiences with them, we can be confident in saying they will continue to return with the intention of getting it right. Often the customer gets worn down with multiple trips out to their home to “fix it”. These home centers specialize in selling materials with a sideline of contracting.
  8. Search Property Appraiser in the municipality your candidates live in. We have found contractors that are homeowners seem to be more responsible and accountable than renters.
  9. For jobs requiring permits, such as James Hardie Siding, you can search for permits online. Permits are public information. You will be able to research how many “closed” (finished) jobs your contractor has done. There is no substitute for experience. The wind code in Florida requires installing Hardie siding much differently than up north. After doing some research, maybe you have replaced or removed some contractors on your list and found candidates that seem to be worth considering.
  10.  Online reviews like Google can be helpful. Google reviews are important to Google. They have strict policies and they regulate Google Business as best they can to promote a positive customer experience. One policy for businesses using Google’s system is agreeing to, “not compensating customers to leave a review”. This is the most violated policy in Google’s contract due to the difficulty of regulating it. A large number of reviews is an indicator of fraud. Companies often spam my email with offers to remove bad reviews and buy reviews for $10 each. Check customer reviews beyond a glance at the star rating
  11.  For further investigation, in addition to the questions you have in mind, there are a few good questions you may want to ask your potential contractor:
    • Do you have any recent customers I could speak with?
    • Can I visit any jobs to see your work?
    • Do you offer any dust control? How do you handle the mess?

Effective Communication Is Critical When Hiring A Home Improvement Contractor

When I need to check someone out, I will start talking. To me, it’s important to slow down any fast talk. People are often forthcoming on different topics like the ever-growing medical marijuana craze. Over the past two years in Florida, active patient numbers have risen by 71 percent, climbing from 455,425 active patients in 2020 to 779,465 active patients by the end of 2022. Also, excessive alcohol use, illegal drugs, and mind-altering drugs. I think it is good to know who I’m working with. It is amazing what people will say when the topic comes up. 

Now, as typically recommended, you are ready to “get three quotes”. Be sure to get three quotes that compare apples-to-apples in service, product, and risk assessment.

Look At People And Policies When Deciding On A Contractor

A successful home improvement contractor is only as good as its people and policies. Look not only at the bottom line price quote, but also evaluate the person and their policies to get a better overall feel of how they will treat you and your project throughout the process. This is recommended whether you need a complete interior remodel or if you just want a wall to be repainted.

When you work with us at db Home Improvements, you will receive the benefit of a company that has served Florida since 2006. And we are licensed, insured, and state certified. We focus our services in Martin County, Stuart, Palm City, Hobe Sound, Jensen Beach, Sewalls Point, and Jupiter Island, and sometimes beyond these areas. We are ready to be your home improvement contractor, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us to schedule a consultation.

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