Before you hire, get written bids from at least three contractors,
check registration, and don't pay in full until the job is completed.

What you need to know before hiring a contractor

You've been meaning to replace those loose shingles before the winter winds blow and, as luck would have it, guess what appeared on your doorknob today? A flier from a contractor offering to fix roofs – cheap!

But before you send anyone up the ladder, you'll want to ask a few questions besides price.

In Washington and Oregon, contractors must register with the state and maintain a bond and insurance. Although it's illegal to work as a contractor without those requirements, some marginal operators may skip them and bid projects at cut-rate prices. If you hire someone who's already willing to break the law, there's a good chance he or she is not too picky about other essentials like quality workmanship, building codes, and inspections.

Bonding and liability insurance

In Washington, general residential contractors must maintain a bond of at least $12,000 ($20,000 in Oregon) to pay for repairs if your project is done poorly or if he or she doesn't complete it. Specialty contractors like painters and electricians may have lower bonds.

Washington general residential contractors also need at least $250,000 in combined property damage and liability insurance ($500,000 in Oregon). That protects you if, for example, an errant nail punctures a pipe and floods your house.

Workers Compensation coverage

If contractors have employees, they must maintain Worker's Compensation insurance to cover injuries if they get hurt on the job.

That's a biggie, since anyone injured on your property (neighbor kids, door-to-door salespeople – and paid contractors) can sue you for damages. Your PEMCO homeowners policy has your back with liability coverage (up to the limits you selected) and legal-defense costs. But unfortunately, we can't eliminate the angst, aggravation, inconvenience, and sleepless nights that accompany a lawsuit.

Finding the right contractor

Washington and Oregon have many skilled, ethical contractors. Here are three quick tips to help you find them:

  1. Ask friends for referrals, check consumer websites, or contact your county's Master Builders Association.
  2. Make sure the contractor is registered, bonded, and insured. The websites below make it easy to check online.
  3. Get written bids and check references, including suppliers, who can tell you if the contractor has a responsible payment record.

To learn more in Washington, contact the Department of Labor and Industries at 1-800-647-0982 or visit In Oregon, contact the Construction Contractors Board at (503) 378-4621 or at