Choosing your contractor

By Ted Bowers
Reader Columnist

For the first 10 years of my career as a builder in Sandpoint, my contract with customers consisted of a verbal agreement and a handshake. We relied on each other’s honesty and trustworthiness.

The goal was to get a job done right for a fair amount of money and to get paid for it in a reasonable amount of time. I can’t remember this ever failing.

Somewhere along the line, I was convinced that a contract was needed. It would spell out details of the project and “guarantee” the project was to be completed as agreed upon for the estimated amount of dollars and that I would get paid for my work. Maybe this happened because the jobs got larger and more complex and because I started getting out of town customers who didn’t know me (and vice versa).

To tell the truth, I‘m really not sure how and why it happened. I do know that as the years have gone by, regulation and litigation have combined to create a climate of fear and distrust and insurance companies have reaped the benefits. Hmmm.

Now that Idaho is following in the footsteps of it’s neighbors and requiring contractor registration, we now have to show our R.E.C. (Registered Entity Contractor) number to get building permits. This is why it’s best to have your contractor apply for the permit.

Registration also includes the requirement to have liability insurance and workers compensation insurance for our employees. Don’t mistake me—I’ve come to accept all this as necessary. There have been enough so-called builders come through town leaving behind botched jobs and unhappy customers to justify some policing. We have had to come behind these charlatans and repair their screw ups, sometimes doubling the homeowner’s expense. This saddens us—it’s unfair to the customer and gives our business a bad name.

The public deserves protection from these types and regulations do provide this to some extent. However, honesty and trustworthiness are not guaranteed by these new laws. What is guaranteed are higher prices for building projects, higher insurance premiums and less ability for common working class people to afford to hire me. If I want to build something for one of my old handshake customers, I have to revert to under the table cash jobs (which, by the way, for the record, I don’t do, because it’s illegal).

So, my advice to you folks who have a building project to do and are about to find a contractor, is; do your due diligence.

First make sure they have all the proper registrations and insurances, but don’t stop there. Go to their websites, check references, and read testimonials. Go look at examples of their work, and if allowed, talk to former customers. And, look them in the eye, shake their hand, engage them in a little conversation about their personal life. These are people you will be entrusting your money and your time with.

Although it’s not required, it helps to like your contractor and crew, at least a little. What I’m saying is, that all the legal requirements, insurances and regulations are fine and necessary, but don’t forget that a handshake and and a little conversation also go a long way in getting to know your builder and deciding if he is the one your want to hire.

From my point of view, what we would like from you is a clear idea of what you want, drawings, good communications, and at least a ballpark budget for us to work with. A sense of humor and a friendly attitude wouldn’t hurt either—we try to bring these qualities to the table along with our professional requirements. After all, life is too short do otherwise.

For more information about Idaho contractor requirements see:

For questions and comments write me at: [email protected].


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