Home: Tips from a pro on hiring a contractor


We’ve all heard the nightmarish stories about contractors — how they bungle jobs, delay completion by months or, worse, take off with your money without finishing or, sometimes, not even starting the work. Those are the bad apples. Obviously, there are also excellent, reputable contractors out there. So how do you go about picking the best for your needs? 

When we’re in the market for, say, a new television, we often read reviews, ask friends and family members what they recommend and visit stores to compare how the pictures look. We become experts. Yet when it’s time to hire a contractor, many people just write a check and hope for the best. 

For advice on how to go about hiring a contractor, I decided to go to the source — an actual contractor. Ed Wrona, a Los Angeles-based licensed contractor with more than 20 years of experience under his tool belt, urges homeowners to do some research before hiring. Here are his suggestions for questions to ask, and what we should be looking out for in our contractor search.

Ask people you know

While it’s fine to look at Yelp reviews, it’s better to get referrals from people you know. Neighbors who have done home improvements similar to what you need can be excellent resources. If any friends or family members are working right now with a contractor, ask how they like the work and get their contractor’s contact information, even if you don’t need a job done now. One day you may and you’ll have the recommendation handy.

Visit the contractor’s previous work

It seems obvious that you would want to see other work the contractor has done. But Wrona says that most homeowners don’t even ask. “In the 20 years I’ve been in business, I’ve only had one client want to look at a previous job that I did,” he said. Ask your prospective contractor for former clients whom you can contact. Besides looking at the actual work, ask those clients what their working relationship with the contractor was like and how the home improvements have held up. 

Make sure they’re licensed

For any work that costs more than $500, the contractor must be licensed with the Contractors State License Board. Otherwise, you have no recourse if anything is wrong with the work. Look for the license number they give you on the board’s website (” target=”_blank”>cslb.ca.gov

The Contractors State License Board website is a great resource for consumers who are about to hire a contractor, so take advantage of the articles and videos that are available. Being informed makes you a smarter — and better — customer for the contractor.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Jailed Alan Gross may have tumor, doctor says


Jailed Jewish-American contractor Alan Gross may have a cancerous tumor that needs to be treated, his lawyer said.

Gross has an unidentified mass behind his right shoulder, according to reports. Cuban doctors declared the mass to be a hematoma that would reabsorb over time.

CT and ultrasound scans of the mass conducted by the Cuban doctors were sent to Gross' lawyers in the United States.

“Gross has a potentially life-threatening medical problem that has not been adequately evaluated to modern medical standards,” U.S. radiologist Dr. Alan Cohen said in a statement released by Gross' attorney Jared Genser.

Cohen said in his statement that Gross should be treated at a U.S. hospital and that the mass should be biopsied. A “soft tissue mass in an adult who has lost considerable weight must be assumed to represent a malignant tumor unless proven to be benign,” the doctor said, according to Reuters.

Gross, 63, of Potomac, Md., was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for “crimes against the state.” He was arrested in 2009 for allegedly bringing satellite phones and computer equipment to members of Cuba’s Jewish community while working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency on International Development.

Last month, a Cuban Foreign Ministry official rejected claims by Gross’ wife, Judy, that Gross was in ill health, and also said Cuba was willing to negotiate his release with U.S. officials, reportedly in exchange for five Cuban spies, four of whom remain in jail in the U.S.

Gross reportedly has lost more than 100 pounds since his arrest and his family says he is suffering from degenerative arthritis. His mother is dying and one of his daughters has cancer.

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