An oak tree over a hundred years old on Maureen O'Donnell (pictured) and John Goebeler's property caused a telephone pole to snap and several wires to fall at the corner of Hilton Ave. and Ridge Rd. in Catonsville.

An oak tree over a hundred years old on Maureen O'Donnell (pictured) and John Goebeler's property caused a telephone pole to snap and several wires to fall at the corner of Hilton Ave. and Ridge Rd. in Catonsville. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun staff / October 31, 2012)

Unlicensed home improvement contractors will undoubtedly be trying to take advantage “of distraught homeowners anxious to complete repairs as soon as possible,” Maryland’s Labor and Licensing Department said the day after the storm called Sandy blew through the state.

“Scam artists often follow damaging storms. Don’t be fooled by an unlicensed contractor who offers to do a job at a lower price than a licensed contractor,” said Leonard Howie, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, in a statement Wednesday.

“It may seem like a great deal at first, but it may cost much more money in the end to repair shoddy work or to pay another contractor to complete the work if the unlicensed contractor takes your money and never returns,” Howie said.

Using contractors licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission offers homeowners the protection of the Home Improvement Law and the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund. The fund covers homeowners for up to $20,000 in losses that are the result of shoddy or unfinished work performed by state-licensed contractors.

In addition to using only state-certified contractors, the Labor and Licensing Department suggests:

  • Check a potential contractor’s complaint history with the state’s Home Improvement Commission. The Home Improvement Commission can be reached by calling 888-218-5925.
  • Ask for estimates and references from several contractors and compare them.
  • Request a written contract and refuse to make any payment before both parties sign that contract.
  • Avoid paying more than one-third of the contract price as a deposit.
  • Check that the contractor has obtained a building permit, if one is required, before work begins.
  • Request a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance certificate.

The state also encourages homeowners seeking specialized contractors — plumbers and HVAC contractors — to ensure that they have master licenses and are insured in the state. Electricians should hold a license from the county in which the work is to be performed.

The state boards relating to plumbing, HVAC and electrical professionals can be reached by calling 410-230-6231. An electrician’s local license can be confirmed by calling the electric board of the homeowner’s county.

Have a real estate news tip or experience to share? Email me at steve.kilar@baltsun.com.