Contractors, Installers, Cabinet Guys. Who to hire.

International IKEA Kitchen Design Services

After doing hundreds of IKEA kitchen remodeling projects in perhaps the biggest IKEA market in the world (Los Angeles has five IKEA stores in the wider metropolitan area, including Orange County), I've come across a wide variety of contractors and installers, and there is vital data that IKEA is never going to tell you.

For many years, each IKEA store would choose one or two local contractors who they would call "Certified IKEA Installers." The certification process consisted of the contractor providing evidence that he/she had done some IKEA kitchens and had appropriate license and insurances (vehicle and liability). A bond is required for every contractor in California (and in most other states) so it's a given. A meeting with local managers would clinch the deal. The contractor signs a contract with Corporate IKEA agreeing for the contract period not to leave the relationship, and to charge IKEA-set pricing for installation of their cabinets. IKEA can, of course, fire the contractor at any point for more or less any reason.

Keep in mind that "contractor" almost always means a small local business. A small local business often means a man or woman or a partnership of both, trying to make a living to support a family. IKEA, of course, is an international mega-corporation. Rumor has it that the founder/owner of IKEA is the richest man in the world.

Anyway, recently, IKEA disconnected from their local contractors and now there is one national company, Signature Services, to which CA and Washington State IKEAs will refer you. There is very little data online about Signature. Signature will not pull permits (which are required in almost every case) for you.Check and see if a company you hire ONLY installs cabinets, and will SUBCONTRACT any plumbing, electrical, etc. Be very, very informed about what this means before you go with any contractor. Read the paperwork. Visit your state's contractor licensing board website.

OK, look, IKEA sells great kitchen cabinets. I have to note this down to keep on track. No matter what, if you understand the situation and act intelligently and legally, you should certainly use their cabinets for your remodel if they are the right product for you.

Why do I say "legally?" I say this because those local contractors, and now Signature, are bound to IKEA but IKEA holds no liability for the quality or type of work they do for you. IKEA might fire a contractor (meaning sever the contract) if they get too many complaints about a "certified" contractor. But the homeowner may think that IKEA is going to protect them if something goes awry with the installation. I have never seen any paperwork from IKEA that states this. Unless something has changed radically, recently, you are hiring a "certified" contractor, or Signature, on the same basis as you would hiring any other contractor: buyer beware.

In California, a contractor is required for any remodeling project over $500. This contract must be very specific as to what the labor (and materials if the contractor is providing any) services will be. NEVER allow a contractor or even a handyman (legal under $500), to do work on your home without something in writing.

Second, if you are hiring the installer IKEA referred you to (I recommend you don't), understand this: that contractor IS NOT going to pull permits for you. Changes are, he will gloss over that entire subject (that you are required to have a permit in most places to replace cabinets, not to mention do any plumbing, for example a dishwasher installation,  not to mention any electrical work).
This, my reader, is, actually criminal. If you are required to have a permit, the contractor who does the work without one is breaking the law.

So, you ask, what are the risks? First, the contractor can lose his license for doing un-permitted work. If Signature does not pull permits, you have to. In the Los Angeles area you need a permit to replace cabinets even. Second, you take the chance, (because without a permit, there is no city inspection), that the contractor has done everything perfectly, has not cut through electrical wires behind the cabinets, has sealed the sink correctly, has added light fixtures per code.

I want to be very clear here. It is understood that some homeowners do not want to get permits. They cost money, although not much, really. Worse, if you have un-permitted work already done on your home, you might have to get that remedied to even pull permits for a kitchen remodel. Oy.

So why not just hire the cheapest "certified" contractor, ignore permits, forge ahead and get it done? Here is why:

First, you are doing something illegal. You know this, so you add some nervousness to your life. Who needs it.

Second, permits keep you safe, and keep your neighbors safe. You would not want your next door neighbor to do cheap electrical work on his property; you would want him to do it legally, and to have it inspected. You too want that inspection that the city provides when you get a permit to check the work of your contractor.

Third, it is vital to understand that buying cabinets at IKEA is just the shopping part of your project. They are just materials. We're talking about something else entirely here, the labor, the skilled work that is needed to remodel your kitchen, with ANY cabinets.

Kitchens, like bathrooms, have plumbing and electrical in them. You cannot avoid doing some in 95% of kitchen remodels. Just replacing the sink is plumbing work and requires a permit in most places. Demolition (removing the old cabinets) can require a permit. Certainly cabinet lights, overhead lights, adding outlets, all require a permit.

So, to keep this simple, don't hire a contractor who cannot pull a permit for the work he is going to do unless you will pull your own permits. In most cases this is doable. But there is a lot to know about pulling permits on your own. In some cases, for example for condo owners in Los Angeles, you cannot pull plumbing and electrical permits, only a licensed contractor can do this for you.

Also, if the contractor glosses over the subject of permits, or if in the fine print of his contract it states that he will not pull permits, don't hire him unless you will get your own permits. Don't hire someone and "hope for the best" in regard to permits. Ignorance of the laws and codes of your city is no excuse, as they say. You don't want a 24 hour liquor store to move in next door to you. The zoning and permit office in your city protects you from this. So go ahead, pay your permit fees.

A contractor who charges more but will pull permits for you is a MUCH better choice than one who charges a little less but who pretends this is not important. Inspections take time, they cost the contractor money when he waits half a day or more for an inspector. But BOY do you want him there for that inspection! Worth every penny to have a beautiful, and safe, remodel.

And then there is the future, when you want to refinance, or sell, your home. If you didn't get permits, your remodel was not done, according to the banks. In some cities, you can't even sell until you get the work permitted, which is a huge hassle to do years later. Worse case scenario, you have to pull everything out. It's happened.

OK, that's enough prophecy of doom. Here is what I have to say as one who has been there and done that, both ways: be an honest citizen so your life and remodel is easy and doesn't backfire, hire an honest contractor and pay a bit more if you have to for one, use IKEA cabinets or any other that make you happy and that you can easily afford. Do the project legally, read your state's Contractor License Board website to fully understand consumer rights and responsibilities in remodeling.

I wish you a beautiful environment.

If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you.


Our company, Modern Family Kitchens, offers an IKEA kitchen design service. We can provide this service locally, or remotely. We think you'll spend the least and get the best results when you invest in expert design. Call or write us to discuss your project. 877-550-1753.