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  • Licensing and Quality of Construction

    In another thread Dick and I are in a pissin’ match over licensing for contractors. Now being a homebuilder I am referring to the licensing of homebuilders, not electricians-plumbers-HVAC people who are and need to be licensed, but just plain ol’ contractors. Dick seems to think that strict licensing is the answer to all of mankind’s problems, I frankly don‘t have a strong opinion either way except to comment on the way things are, not the way things should be.

    The main reason licensing is not a big issue to me is that there’s is nothing I can do about it, and I really don’t see it as a solution to a problem, primarily because I DON’T THINK THERE IS A PROBLEM! In fact, I think, except for a couple of areas, houses are built better today than at anytime in our history. Of course there are exceptions, I’m sure someone can point out some sloppy construction they’ve seen, I know I can, but I contend on the whole homes are built better today than 50 years ago.

    My challenge to Dick and anyone that wants to answer is this:

    1). Give me an example of a state where strict licensing for builders has made a real, tangible difference in the quality of construction.

    2). Tell me if I am wrong in my opinion that homes are built better today that 50 years ago. I’m sure someone can point out one or two areas where this is not true (I can), but I mean from an overall standpoint.


    If someone could give me an example where licensing has made a difference in the quality of homes being built, I say so what. What am I going to do differently tomorrow because Oregon has a strict licensing law for homebuilders? I am going to continue to build new homes, I am going to continue to sell them, if laws change here I will conform, life goes on. Does it make a hill of beans difference to me how laws are in another state? No.
    ============================================

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  • #2
    Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

    I don't know that licensing makes much difference, especially in a state like WA where you just sign up.

    As far as the '50 years ago' thing goes, I'd venture to say that there are tons of materials out there today that are designed to make building cheaper, easier, faster, and shorter lived. Some things have improved--I like romex better than knob and tube wire, and I like plywood sheathing more than board sheathing--but there are tons of cheap, plastic, glued-together-sawdust kinds of products on the market and I try to avoid as many as possible.

    I was watching a guy put a tiled shower in a $2M house the other day, using Denshield. No poly or felt behind the board, just slap it up, seal the screw holes, and it's good for... 50 years? 5 years? 5 minutes? Oh no wait, make that ten years because that's the new home warranty period. You couldn't give me that stuff.

    I'd also venture to say that a lot of today's tradesmen are less skilled than those of the past. Maybe I'm just romanticising it, but it used to be a respected career path to be a tradesman. Now it's what you do when your PO says you have to get a job or go back inside.
    Bailer Hill Construction, Inc. - Friday Harbor, WA
    Website - Facebook

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    • #3
      Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

      Allan, shouldn't that state that you and Dick are in a pissing match again (Or maybe even still). LOL

      IMO the only single thing that can and will improve the quality of construction is competition. In heavily regulated states the consumer is well protected by the state and the contractor immediately has the credibility of the state built into his business. Therefore he must be good if he is licensed by the state. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      Several years ago our State Home Builder's Ass'n had a 5 state convention. Washington, Idaho, Oregon , Montana and Alsaka. We all had a good time and the golf was great. One day at lunch we had a discussion about the licensing/registration laws in our states. Montana was absent. Washington and Oregon have contractor registration, Alsaka has very onerous licensing program and Idaho has none. It was determined, by consensus, that Idaho had the least amount of problems with contractor/consumer relations. Items such as unfinished work quality of work, payments and liens were all discussed. WA and OR had the second most problems and Alaska with it's strict rules had the most problems. When we allow the government to "protect" the consumers we in fact make the situation worse. We all pay the price, in more ways than one, for addditional burdensome regulations.

      My vote would be to get rid of all licensing/registering and let the consumers decide, thru free market competition, who are the best contractors and who should get the most work. This would not be a perfect situation but I feel the best over long periods of time.

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      • #4
        Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

        Allen,

        I have built homes in New york state, PA., Utah, and now Montana, Utah has a relitively strick lisc. program.Having built in states with out lisc. and in states that require lisc.I would say
        yes lisc. does seem to improve the level of quaility.

        I personaly feel however, that to work effectivly though that every individual, of every trade working on a construction site test out.
        As a general I may never step foot on a site. Testing me would have less of a positive impact on the quaility of a project that testing of these individuals.Also I think it imperative that there be a plans examination/ inspection prosses.

        My test in Utah was two part, buissness and law, and code or science related. Of the twenty or so testing that day, only a couple passed. Outside after the test I talked with one Individual that did not quite make it. His flustration with the buisness and law portion stumped him. Overhead, Payroll, and work comp. all that crap had him confused. (imagine that?)

        Wages seemed considerably better in utah,The quaility overall seemed better, and as far as running a buisness this enviorment seemed considerably better. When contractors mentioned overhead not everbody looked up.

        The bottom line here is from a structual and mechanical point the consummer is by far better served in markets that require constructors to be quailified through testing. Obviously the consumer can control the visualy Quailities of a project.

        Anoughther point is, I feel I can lower my cost of doing buisness in an enviorment where there is a more stringent quailification prossess as I do not have the ovehead labor of chasing projects that get sold to the inferior producer.

        The economical impact of knowing what you are doing in this buissness may be more than this country could bear however imagine if we lost half of our work force just due to ingorance>

        As far as the rest of the states with out any testing or lisc. that I have build in, ugly, ugly, ugly. It was only up to the individuals own integrity or the lack of it in many cases.

        Just some of my observations.

        Tom
        Last edited by Thomas O. Maynard; 06-27-2004, 01:18 PM.

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        • #5
          Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

          Allan:

          1) I can't answer this question because I live in a state that's always had licensing, since I believe 1935, so I have no basis of comparison.

          2) While I believe that most houses are built better today, I believe that's due to building codes (important to us who live in earthquake country) and not necessarily to licensing. I have worked on old mansions that were built much better than we build today, because the level of craftsmanship was much higher than we have today. These mansions predate both building codes and contractor licensing, but were built in the days when craftsmen took pride in their work. Kitchens are built much better today, because of the better materials that are available to us now, on the other hand baths may be prettier today, but many are not as good because the level of tile work is not as good in most, because of the prevalence of newer, easier to install, products such as backerboard as opposed to mud beds behind the tile.

          What licensing does right:

          It professionalizes the industry and eliminates some of the poor quality contractors that give the good quality contractors low price competition. It creates a "club" that becomes more difficult to enter and allows the better builders to make more money with less low-price competition. This is also the main reason for licensing doctors and lawyers, to protect those that qualify so they can keep their standards and income up. I am also in favor or requiring both an architect’s, and structural engineer’s seal on any project valued at more than $500, that is pretty much required around here now (at least the engineer’s seal) with our latest codes. It is virtually impossible to get any plans approved under the prescriptive standards of Chapter 23 of the CBC anymore. BTW, I think the IRC is so simplistic that it’s a joke compared to the UBC/CBC.

          What licensing does wrong:

          It gives the public the false impression that anybody licensed is just as good as anybody else that is licensed. I have gotten the comment in the past: "Why should I pay you more than Joe Magee? He has the same license you do." This is not as important in spec housing, because the consumer can see what he is buying, in fact as I have said many times before, I am in favor of eliminating the licensing of spec home builders. If someone wants to buy a lot and build a home, then the public can buy it on the open market, just like an existing home, we have building codes that supposedly control the hidden facets of the house (although I am in favor of eliminating the bureaucracy of public inspection and going to private inspection, preferably by the architect who carries liability insurance, since public agencies are immune from liability due to the doctrine of “Sovereign Immunity”).

          It creates yet another bureaucracy populated by civil servants whose only goal in life is a steady salary, medical benefits, and that all-important 100% (or more) of last wage penison at 50-years of age. Public servants are risk-adverse individuals who have no business playing policeman with out lives, that's one of the reasons I do pro-bono work for the state license board, to bring the perspective of the working industry to the table.
          Last edited by Dick Seibert; 06-27-2004, 01:05 PM.
          You will ask what goal the U.S. is pursuing? .... their external debt is huge, and ruining other countries is their customary method. Even ownership of the global 'printing press' is no longer helping. Nor is full control over NATO, None of that if enough for the 21st century colonizers. They don't just need to preserve the dollar as the only global currency but also to get their hands on the economic wealth of other large powers and regions. - Sergei Naryshkin

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          • #6
            Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

            Peter, I agree 1000% with you, competition is the American way of maintaining quality. I may be a little burned out after 30 years of this meat-grinding profession we call construction, but I eat-drink-sleep building houses (OK, I admit I’m no fun at parties), and my focus is on how I can build better than the next guy. I am always trying to improve quality because I’m afraid my competition will catch up with me. Competition is much more efficient at quality control than any gov’t regulation (licensing). .

            David, I mentioned there were two areas where I thought homes were better 50 years ago than today, and you mentioned one of them: craftsmanship. Today's’ workers, while still some great talent out there, is just much more production oriented and paid less than previous generations. But that’s just the reality of the world we live in today. The other area: quality of all wood products. Lumber in particular just isn’t what it used to be, wood isn’t dried like it should, new growth vs. old growth, lesser grades have become more acceptable. Of course one reason for this is there is just so much more construction now, it’s hard for growers and mills to keep up with demand. Having said that, structural engineering has improved tremendously so that probably more than compensates for the lesser quality wood. How many homes built in the 30’s-40’s-50’s had structural steel components or glue lam beams or solid plywood sheathing?

            Dick, I am glad you agree with me on this, you are finally coming around to my way of thinking. Yes, codes have done a lot. Screw licensing, some of these small towns I build in have unbelievably tough building codes.
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            • #7
              Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

              Maybe it is not licensing but rather some other type of "something" to control builders/remodelers. Here in the Northeast (MA) just my opinion, but the licensing system here is a joke. The license you need is called a "Construction Supervisor", it is an open book test, pass it and you never have to be tested again, as long as you keep paying your licensing fee to the state(revenue maker) they are happy. The other "license" the State came up with is called a "Home improvement" license(again, revenue maker) which you are supposed to have to pull permits to remodel. The joke is if you have a Supervisors license, you are granted the Home improvement license free, if you don't have a supervisors license all you have to do is pay $100.00 and you have a home improvement license. The licenses are an attempt to some what control legitimate contractors, also, you have to show proof of workers comp. to obtain a building permit. The easy way around that is a lot of "scumbags" who think they are builders/remodelers just have the homeowner pull the permit and avoid the license and the insurance all together anyway, but that is probably for another thread.

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              • #8
                Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

                Allan,

                The reason you are no longer fun at partys is be cause you have lost your respect for anything buy yourself. Allen, it is all about YOU! No wonder you did so well as a clone to the builders "20" "the me club" of America) (the NHAB). I bet you keep your close on when they open the hot tub? Not Dick! it is every which way but loose with him.

                Dick is probaly is out doing some good honorrable deed right now, at 7:00 mass, helping an elderly lady across a streeet, Teaching sunday school, or offering a better soloution to todays construction related issues, "Good men" never stop or rest, other wise he would be all over you.

                It is obviouse to all readers, you have built your buisness on the backs of others. They who slave to build your volume, thier compensation? (nothing) . Only some delusional statement from you, related to how in the lose of time so do the salaries of those who build your monument go with it!

                Thomas O. Maynard
                Author of "Team work for the building of better homes, Interity, Honesty and Value, (it is about "US" )not just about me")
                Last edited by Thomas O. Maynard; 06-27-2004, 05:43 PM.

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                • #9
                  Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

                  Dick:

                  You said:

                  “Licensing eliminates some of the poor quality contractors that give the good quality contractors low price competition.”

                  What states (CA excluded) have any kind of licensing with real teeth in it to keep out poor quality contractors?


                  Tom:

                  You mentioned that states you’ve built in with licensing had better quality homes built, can you give a few examples of specific things done in relation to construction that aren’t done in the non-licensing states?

                  By the way Tom, I’m going to ignore your last post and just assume that you are having a bad day. It’s really not worthy of a response.
                  ============================================

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                  • #10
                    Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

                    Tom,
                    Its a shame you need to isolate yourself rom nahb. Everyday of the year NAHB is fighting to keep you in business regardless or not if you pay dues. There are an average of 400 bills presented evey year to the legislature in va.that impact our business. And every year builders from local assosciations take off work for you and drive to the capital of the state to make sure the glue gets removed from these bills. I know this same situation exist in every state, builders fighting for your right to make a living. If they didnt do this then who is ? You? If you wish credibility then leave NAHB out of this .

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                    • #11
                      Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

                      All,
                      Quite why, in a land founded on the principles that government shall have limited and enumerated powers should this discussion be taken seriously. The notion that any tradesman --yes! including plumbers and electicians -- should be granted by the state an indulgence to engage in their business should surely be held in utter contempt by any liberty loving person.
                      Ian

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                      • #12
                        Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

                        On the MA Construction Supervisor's License, the test is 4 hours long, and last time I took the test a while back, you had to get a score 40 correct out of 50 questions. I recall scoring 45. There are two license levels, restricted to 1 or two family dwellings, and the unrestricted license, which allows work on any building up to 35,000 square feet. The test for the unrestricted license is more difficult than the restricted one.

                        Granted it's an open book test, but the MA building code is 2, 4" thick books. I've found that when applying for permits in MA, one gets more respect IMHO, from the building inspector vs just having a Home Improvement License. Renewal of the CSL license in MA also requires you take courses in construction to obtain a certain level of continuing education units, as part of the renewal process.

                        Unfortunately, as mentioned more and more homeowners are pulling (or not pulling) permits and/or hiring contractors with no licensing nor insurance. Another problem I've seen is people with CSL licenses pulling the permits, and having someone else do the work, a violation of the building codes.

                        FWIW, RI and CT are more stringent on licensing, and require liability insurance, period, or no license.

                        JoeF
                        Renaissance Restorations LLC
                        Victorian Home Restoration Services
                        Box 3092
                        Fayville, MA 01745-0092

                        http://www.renaissancerestorations.com

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                        • #13
                          Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

                          Allan-

                          You asked:
                          Originally posted by Allan Edwards
                          1). Give me an example of a state where strict licensing for builders has made a real, tangible difference in the quality of construction.
                          I can see both sides of the issues regarding licensing. Professions are licensed in order to provide some protection to the consumer. The real question is does strict licensing provide any real protection to the consumer? My opinion is, yes it probably does. Are houses built better because of strict licensing? I don't think so.

                          The way I see it, in states that have strict license requirements and testing, chances are the contractor will probably be around longer to service the customer and it is easier to hold someone accountable. The contractors that pass the business and law portion of the tests have at least heard the term "overhead", so maybe they understand a little more about business and can make a decent living in this industry.

                          As I stated above I don't think that licensing alone gives the consumers a better product. As an example where I live electricians are NOT licensed while roofers ARE licensed. I don't know this for sure, but I think that roofers are licensed to protect consumers from fly-by-night guys with a truck and ladder, nothing more. I haven't checked for sure, but I have heard that it only costs $250 to get a roofing license. You have to show proof of insurance and buy a bond and you are a roofer.

                          I live in a town of about 65000 and all that is required for electical contractors is an inspection. No testing, no license, no registration. Do these contrator provide a lower quality product? I don't think so.

                          By the way, you might be suprised which state I live in, home of the 3rd largest city in the us.

                          Originally posted by Allan Edwards
                          2). Tell me if I am wrong in my opinion that homes are built better today that 50 years ago. I’m sure someone can point out one or two areas where this is not true (I can), but I mean from an overall standpoint.
                          My fingers are tired, I will answer this later.

                          Mark

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                          • #14
                            Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

                            Mark:

                            State with third largest city? Illinois?

                            I agree that licensing might offer some protection to the consumer but I also agree it probably doesn’t add quality to construction. But which states even have licensing laws with some real teeth in them?

                            It seems that cities might have some tough licensing aspects too, I know Houston has fairly tough tests for master licenses for the mechanical/plumb/elec trades.
                            ============================================

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                            • #15
                              Re: Licensing and Quality of Construction

                              Don't kid yourselves, licensing was initiated by contractors' lobbies to protect contractors from unwanted competition, under the guise of protecting consumers, just like doctors and lawyers.

                              Today I went out to see a potential customer, he wants to add 10 feet to his master bedroom, for about a 200 square foot addition. I told him that it was going to cost somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000, or something over $1,000 a square foot.

                              I explained that I would have to employ a licensed architect to come up with a preliminary design. The architect would then have to consult with the City planner who would discuss incorporating her design ideas into the architect's drawings. After a few meetings with the planner, and satisfying her concerns for the betterment of the community, the City would send out notices, incorporating small versions of the drawings to all homeowners within a quarter mile radius of the home. If no one expressed any concerns we would proceed, but if they did (and the odds are that someone is going to protest) I would send over some carpenters and erect poles around the area of the second story addition and string yellow caution tape around the poles so the addition would be clearly visible from the valley floor. A meeting with the affected homeowners would be held on the valley floor with the architect present, and the architect would make any alterations necessary to mitigate any damages that might be suffered by any homeowners in the vicinity. Once the homeowners are satisfied, if they are, the architect would make a Power Point presentation to the Design Review Commission of the City, he would then incorporate any changes they suggest into the drawings. Once approved by the Design Review Commission I would retain a licensed structural engineer to design the foundation upgrades and shear wall detains to carry all shear loads down to the newly reinforced foundation. We would then apply for a building permit and, depending upon their workload, we should have the approved plans out in a few months. I also estimated the time for the design phase to be 6 months to a year.

                              What are his choices?

                              1) Hire me and just pay what it costs. (he did by the way)
                              2) Look for a cheaper insured contractor. (very few insured contractors will even do a small job like this), but this is his only other viable option.
                              3) Find an uninsured contractor. (if the house burns down, or falls down in an earthquake, he's out of luck because his homeowners' policy won't cover him for a construction related losses)
                              4) Hire his own architect and engineers, pull his own permit, as a homeowners’ permit, hire all subcontractors to build the job, and get insurance certificates from each one of them. (on sale he would have to disclose the fact that he did the job without a licensed contractor, probably reducing the sales price more than what I am charging him)

                              I wouldn’t work in a state that didn’t license contractors, simply because I couldn’t make any where near as much money as I can make here negotiating the bureaucracy, a bureaucracy that limits my competition. I get a high price and pay my men and my subcontractors more money, architects and engineers all make money. Everybody wins, the customer pays more but is assured of getting a good job. When I read on these forums about the low prices that contractors get in other areas, I am appalled that anyone would work for so little money. BTW, I read that a house on Pebble Beach just sold for $6,000 a square foot, I think that’s a new record, we are looking at $1,000 a foot as the holy grail in building now, that is if we could find a lot that they would let us build on.
                              You will ask what goal the U.S. is pursuing? .... their external debt is huge, and ruining other countries is their customary method. Even ownership of the global 'printing press' is no longer helping. Nor is full control over NATO, None of that if enough for the 21st century colonizers. They don't just need to preserve the dollar as the only global currency but also to get their hands on the economic wealth of other large powers and regions. - Sergei Naryshkin

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