The Top Five Reasons Why Homeowners in California Should Never Pay Contractors Before Work Has Been Performed

The Top Five Reasons Why Homeowners in California Should Never Pay Contractors Before Work Has Been Performed

In California, hiring a contractor for a home improvement project is a significant financial commitment. Many homeowners, especially those less familiar with contracting laws, can fall into the trap of paying large deposits or even full payment upfront. Here's why this practice is risky, and what can happen when things go wrong:


It's okay to pay a contractor after work has been completed. It's important to have a detailed contract that outlines each phase of the project and how much will be paid upon completion of each phase. This ensures the contractor has an incentive to complete the work and provides financial protection in case something goes wrong.

1. Legal Protection Is Limited With Upfront PaymentsCalifornia law limits contractor deposits to no more than 10% of the total contract price or $1,000, whichever is less. However, some unscrupulous contractors ask for larger deposits. Once you've paid, the legal recourse to get your money back can be slow and uncertain. Legal actions like the Mechanics Lien Law can be complex, and it’s often a long and costly process for homeowners to get their money back.

2. Risk of Contractor Fraud and Disappearance

When contractors receive large payments upfront, there's always a risk they could take the money and disappear without completing the work—or even starting it. This can leave you with a financial loss and an incomplete project. According to the California State License Board (CSLB), contractor fraud is a significant issue, with numerous complaints each year about contractors taking money without delivering services.

3. Quality Assurance and Project Oversight

If a contractor has already been paid, there's little incentive for them to perform quality work or meet project deadlines. By withholding payment until work is completed to your satisfaction, you maintain control over the quality and pace of the project. This serves as a strong incentive for contractors to do a good job.

4. Project Delays and Extended Timelines

When contractors receive large payments upfront, they may delay your project while they take on other jobs to earn more money. This can lead to extended project timelines, creating inconvenience and additional costs for you as you wait for the work to be completed.

5. Increased Financial Risk for Homeowners

Paying upfront exposes you to significant financial risk. If a contractor goes out of business, files for bankruptcy, or faces legal trouble, you may never see your money again. The financial loss can be devastating, especially for large-scale projects where the initial deposit could be substantial.

Examples of Homeowners Affected by Contractor Fraud

These scenarios are unfortunately all too common. Here are two examples of California home owners who suffered due to excessive deposits paid to unscrupulous contractors:

Case 1: The Rodriguez Family in Los AngelesThe Rodriguez family wanted to renovate their kitchen and paid a contractor a 50% deposit of $20,000 upfront. The contractor promised to start work within a week but never showed up. After multiple attempts to contact the contractor, they found out he had moved out of state and could not be reached. Despite legal efforts, the family never recovered their money.

Case 2: The Martin Family in San JoseThe Martinez family hired a contractor to build a backyard patio. They paid a 30% deposit of $10,000. The contractor started the work but then abandoned the project, leaving it half-finished. Attempts to contact him failed, and it was later discovered that he had a history of contractor fraud. The family had to hire another contractor to complete the work, resulting in additional costs and significant stress.


To avoid these risks, California homeowners should never give a contractor payment before work has been performed, in compliance with California's contractor laws. Always check a contractor's license, read reviews, and never feel pressured into making large payments before seeing results. Moreover, ensure you have a clear contract that specifies payments for each phase of the project to maintain control over the process.