Time is running out for Georgia builders who haven’t started working on the application for their contractor’s license: July 1 is the effective date for the state’s first-ever contractor licensing law.

But at least one builder is happy to complete the paperwork for the new requirement. “They needed it,” says Larry Johnson, president of Bent Pine Construction in St. Marys, Ga., a coastal village on the Georgia-Florida border. “They needed to get a handle on the folks who don’t need to be practicing construction, the fly-by-nighters and the ones who don’t have morals and scruples.”

The law will require contractors to meet minimum criteria for education or comparable experience, as well as provide proof of financial stability, liability and workers compensation insurance coverage, and letters of reference from architects or engineers.

Ideally, such a law will protect legitimate builders and contractors as well as homeowners and home buyers from unscrupulous operators.

“I won’t say we’ll level the playing field, but we’ll make it closer,” says Ed Phillips, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Georgia, which helped write the legislation. “Crooks will still be crooks and will try to circumvent the process, but we got some insurance requirements. We also have the ability to report people who are operating in a way that’s not good for profession.”

The Georgia State Contractor Licensing Board will have the authority to investigate complaints, levy fines and require “restoration of the homeowner, which has been interpreted as up to buying back the house from them,” Phillips says.

Since the licensing requirement was first announced, along with a one-time exam exemption period for builders who met the work experience, insurance, and financial stability criteria, more than 17,000 applications have been filed, says licensing board member Mark Herbert.
One of the issues yet to be worked out is reciprocity with other states, says Herbert, who is also CEO of Herbert Homes in Evans, Ga. The board is working on the task, but as of yet, the Georgia license won’t be valid in other states.

With the deadline looming, the board has scheduled several additional meetings to hear appeals from contractors whose applications were denied. Some of the reactions have been nasty, Herbert says, particularly those of builders who thought they shouldn’t have to sit for the exam.
Steve Romeyn, managing partner of active adult builder Windsong Properties in Woodstock, Ga., was one of them. He’s been a builder in the state for more than 30 years, but since he started a new company four-and-a-half years ago, he didn’t meet the experience standard of five years in operation that was required to exempt from the exam.

After he got over being annoyed about it, though, Romeyn says he found the four-week prep class very helpful. “Yes, it was a little time-consuming, but most of us have learned this business in the field,” the builder says. “I personally got a lot out of the class. I thought I knew an awful lot, but I learned a lot more.”

Anyone who hasn’t started his or her application will be hard-pressed to finish it and take the test before the deadline, says Tina Bennett, land development and marketing coordinator for Suwanee-based Touchstone Homes, who handled the application for her company. It took her six months, she says, because it required documents that weren’t located in their offices. And they finished before the exemption period closed, so her builders didn’t have to take the test.

Still, if a builder fills out the application properly the first time, he could get approval on the application, finish the test, and take it before the deadline. To help out, the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association is hosting application workshops all through the spring.

“I’m still pretty confident someone would get through the process (before July 1),” says Penelope Round, government affairs representative for the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association. “As we get closer to May, I’m not as confident. The average processing time is two to four weeks right now, which is great, considering that it took a year for people to get their exam exemptions reviews. I’ve heard of people getting a five-day turnaround. But the more applications they get, the longer the turnaround will be.”

The Greater Atlanta HBA also is offering the prep classes for the exam, which covers codes, construction and business practices.

In the end, even Romeyn, whose exam exemption was denied, believes the licensing process will benefit the state’s home builders. “Historically, the price of entry into this business was fairly simple,” he says. “Anybody could do it on a full-time or part-time basis. They didn’t have to have any knowledge; they could just go out and build houses. People will say they’re licensed, but that’s a business license. You can get a license to open an ice cream stand. I think this is a very valuable thing.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.