I tweeted recently about passing “my contractor’s exam.” And judging from some of the responses (totally supportive), I felt I needed to clear a few things up. But first — thank you, and oh, you are not following us on Twitter? Here you go >> @BuildingMoxie.
What Does This Mean?
By passing this test, I am NOT now a card-carrying licensed contractor. I am not yet recognized by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC). And while passing this test does not mean I can instantly legally do work as a contractor, it also does not mean that I hold any new, special credential. Simply put — I have only passed a pre-qualification exam. This test however was one of two (in my eyes) important qualifications for the license in my state. (Below I’ll cover what other states require. And I’ll provide the full list of Maryland requirements in the More Moxie section at the bottom.)
This “licensing” exam does not test skill as a contractor. Rather it tests your knowledge of (construction) business principles (generally) and the laws of Maryland (specifically). It is based solely on the book Business and Project Management for Contractors – Maryland.
What to Expect on the Maryland Exam
And to answer your question — it was a little difficult, at least more difficult than I expected. I mean – not the funnest read, a little technical at times, and with sections at a time that will never apply to ME . . . ever. And maybe there, that’s the hardest part of the whole thing . . . simply stringing enough focus together to make it through the book in a somewhat cohesive fashion.
It is/was an open book test, but the test, the testmakers surely make it tricky. While there were a few soft toss questions, most required analysis and the piecing together of information across several sections. My personal recommendation (from hindsight) — read the book thoroughly, yes . . . but know the Code (different from building code) back to front. (From the book, Appendices A, B, & C, with Appendix C covering the Door to Door Sales Act).
So What Does This Mean for Building Moxie?
So I passed my test (after being pre-qualified based on hands-on trade experience) and I give myself a little pat on the back. To actually obtain my license, I would now have to apply. To apply, I would have to fill out an application, including elements that prove my financial solvency. (For me — using my LLC Built on Ideas and Trade Name registered as Building Moxie.). I would then submit proof of insurance (Minimum $50K coverage), as well as make a payment of $100 to the state’s Homeowners Guaranty Fund (and yes, there’s a blog post here). The initial licensing fee is $325, and must be renewed every two years at a cost of $304.61 thereafter.
Quick aside — it always drives me a little nuts when contractors in our state advertise (the MHIC license number must be included in any advertisement) that they are both “Insured and Bonded” (bonding only needed for residential work if requirements for solvency are not met). If a contractor is licensed, they have, in fact, been insured and bonded.
My scores are good for two years. While I have no immediate plans to activate my license, it was something I just wanted to do. For me — the clock ticks.
Contractor Licensing Varies from State to State
I have known that licensing varies from state to state, but I decided to ask around and a few friends of our Facebook page (go ahead like it) responded with what was required in their states. What I found basically: the regulations under which home improvements are performed legally, vary widely (like the grand canyon) from state to state, with some variations rolling down even to the municipality level. Here’s what I got:
States with Minimal Requirements
- First Barry in Delaware — He pays a $75 (business) licensing fee to the state (no requirements). He must be licensed in a number of the towns in which he works (along the Delaware shore). This year he says, he will pay $800 to work in six towns. Some, he says, require the business license and proof of insurance.
- In New Jersey, and info provided by friends Design Build Profit — general contractors only need a state-issued New Jersey Home Improvement Contractors license (through Consumer Affairs), which merely consists of a felony background check and a fee. No testing, certifications, or other qualifications required.
- Missouri contractor Paul Hamtil of the brother team at Hamtil Construction says, “Missouri does not require a license for those working as GCs. Some municipalities (not all) require a license for a fee of $50-$75. They check liability and work comp certificates. St. Louis City only requires a business license, no contractor’s license there.”
States with More Stringent Requirements
- On the other end of the spectrum, painting contractor Chris Haught of RCPainting in Utah says her state has “a strong licensing program that requires continuing education and has a decent enforcement program.” She then pointed me too this link.
- Lastly Florida, and in line with the Chris’ info above – Jeremy Parcels of RJM Contractors says, “Excluding handymen (and the gray area there) all other (including those working in specific trades) contractors are required to be licensed. There are basic requirements and a state exam.” He goes onto say that within this framework, there are three categories of contractors’ licensing: General, Building, and Residential. General contractors are the highest on the food chain and their services are unlimited. Building contractors may construct commercial buildings, single, or multifamily dwellings but nothing higher than three stories. Residential can build, remodel or repair 1, 2, or 3 family residences not more than 2 stories. In my eyes, certainly a well developed framework.
A National Standard?
In doing a quick search across Google — you’ll find a frequent call for a national standard. It’s prominently voiced (as reported) here. In this same article, you’ll find what looks like accurate national stats on licensing. Here, maybe if you’d like to try to figure it out yourself, plus a list of the governing boards with contacts.
Again thanks for your support & thanks for reading. If you are licensed in a state and you are not listed here, please feel to drop your info in the comments section below. ~jb
Maryland’s site is pretty informative, and while I wanted to include the state recommended reading list, no time. Wanna get your license in MD? Start here: http://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/mhic/
Here is the “semi-full” list of Maryland state requirements: http://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/mhic/mhicapply.shtml#req. I list the ones below that apply across all possible forms of “incorporation”.
- All applicants must take and pass the licensing exam before they can apply for a license.
- Applicants for a contractor’s license must provide proof of at least two years of experience in home improvement work, construction and/or related education.
- Applicants must provide proof of financial solvency based on the scope and size of their business in relation to total assets, liabilities, credit rating and net worth.
- Proof of current $50,000 liability insurance filed with the application for licensure.