Friday, September 8, 2023

Real Estate: General Contractor, Driving, Bait Sales

By Warren O’Shea

At first glance, the title may seem strange but not for the reason you think. While it reads like a sentence, it is not intended to be. The title is actually a list of possible answers to a multiple-choice question, the question being:

Maine requires a license for which two?

Surprisingly enough, Maine requires you to have a license to drive a car and sell bait, but not to be a general contractor. Now, I know all of you bait buyers are breathing a collective sigh of relief knowing that the live or dead fish you're buying is regulated by our great state, but a large portion of Maine homeowners are in disbelief that general contractors are not required to be licensed.

There are some specific trades that do require licenses like plumbers and electricians, but not GC’s. What Maine does have is the “Home Construction Warning” on the Maine Attorney General’s Consumer Information page. It requires GC’s to attach the AG’S construction warning to every contract and any project valued at $3000 or more requires a contract. It also states that the GC cannot receive more than one third of the contract price as payment upfront. A fun note about the AG’s Consumer Information page is that it also lists the contractors that the state has sued.

In my recollection, it lists the same 9 GC’s since the page’s creation in 2014. Terrific! Fantastic! It must be working! No new lawsuits. There must be no more bad GC’s out there.

Think again.

The full Maine Attorney General info page can be found here.

So how did we get stuck here? Homeowners continue to get ripped off, Outraged citizens call for the state to require licensing yet nothing happens. The AG’s office has received more than 3,300 complaints since 2018 with consumer losses totaling an estimated $12 million. In the last 15 years, seven bills have been proposed, all of them failed.

The Mills administration testified against the most recent bill as well as the Maine Policy Institute, the Maine Association of Realtors, and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine. The head of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation claimed it was unclear which problem the bill sought to correct.

The passing of a contractor bill is likely a combined factor of timing, and clarifying what the intention of the bills are. We have had a housing shortage for years, very old homes, and the oldest median age in the country. The state has also passed measures to encourage more residential construction projects, putting pressure on both consumers and contractors to keep up with demand, and demand is at an all-time high.

If the bill was written to address shoddy workmanship, there are no tests in place to qualify skill level. You can roll out of bed one day and decide that you are a “Master Carpenter” with no course to take and pass, no assessment of ability, no certification to hang on the office wall. Unskilled workers will not suddenly become skilled via licensure. Currently, home inspectors are not required to be licensed either, but in order to be recognized by national organizations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), you must be certified and keep abreast of code by earning 20 ASHI approved Continuing Education credits (CE’s) annually.

If the bill was to address fraudulent business practices, it didn't give any more power to the Attorney General's office to enforce its current laws, and listing the bad guys on their website doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent.

I’m confident that in time we will have a licensure system that may be a hybrid of what other states are doing but it will never be a magic potion that will cure all ills. Most reputable GC’s welcome licensure and regulation, but some will inevitably push back on any new regulation, citing that it will take more time and cost more money than continuing on with the status quo. It is likely to get worse before it gets better.

In the meantime, consult three different GC’s for your project, always get a signed contract, and contact your state representative to keep pressure on the state to act. At least you can drive to get your bait with the confidence that the state has your back. < 

"Warren O'Shea is the owner of O’Shea Builders LLC, Maine’s most award-winning remodeling contractor. He has 35+ years of residential remodeling experience. He is a certified home inspector and has been featured on HGTV, Food Network, and Maine Cabin Masters. He is a recipient of the Portland Police Department’s “Citizen Award”, and is a staunch consumer advocate. Warren has, and continues to, co-author articles for nationally distributed trade magazines."

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