Contractors are generally not considered stellar business owners. While a baker can bake, it doesn’t mean he can run a successful bakery. The same concept can be applied to contractors. Just because someone can swing a hammer, it doesn’t mean they can return your phone call or show up on time. Use this list as your guide on how to hire a contractor the right time, the first time.
It’s true, contractors don’t always have to be good businessmen. Many times they just have to be quick, cheap and meet specific needs. There are plenty of homeowners and home flippers looking for a good deal. They don’t need the best person to do the job, they need the least expensive one.
This doesn’t mean you should settle for a contractor who isn’t right for you job. You can find the right contractor with a little bit of research and effort and it goes beyond just verifying if they are licensed and bonded (which is important!).
Here are some of the top tips I’ve used over the years, for many projects, to virtually guarantee success in your search.
Word of mouth is king!
Asking others for recommendations on contractors who have done similar work is a great way to find them. This is a simple but effective way to find contractors that will help you. Get referrals from several people you trust. It’s more likely that a contractor will do great work in the future if they are well-respected.
- Some of the best ways to get recommendations for great tradesmen is through people in your neighborhood. Driving by a construction site in your area? Stop by and ask for a card. Speak to the owner and get feedback about their experience when it comes to timeliness, reliability and quality of work.
- Many neighborhoods and towns have Facebook groups dedicated to their areas, ask for referrals for contractors they’ve hired for similar projects.
- Visit nearby kitchen and bath showrooms and ask for contractors they personally work with to set up their displays or ones their customers typically use
- Contact several local building inspectors to see which home renovation contractors routinely meet code requirements
- Employees of local hardware stores come across tones of people in the trade, this is a good place to inquire.
- Contact any subcontractors you’ve worked with in the past. Generally, good people tradesmen work with others of similar skill and integrity. Ask your electrician if they know any good plumbers, or your plumber if they’ve worked with a good contractor, etc.
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The best time to find a contractor is when you don’t need one. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you start looking when you urgently need to hire one.
Be proactive instead. Keep a running list of pros you can contact for different problems. Continue to add to the list as you come across good trades people. When the finally arises, you’ll have an arsenal of skilled and reliable contractors to reach out to who can deliver on their promises.
Let these pros know there are other contractors ready and available to take on your project, this will help breed competition which will drive better price, quality and attention.
Google them and check reviews
While references are great, it is important to do online research before you hire a contractor. It’s almost like getting a referral from a friend, but you can also get it from a lot of people online. You can also see if they are involved in any illegal activity or have any ongoing disputes. You can check their profile at the Better Business Bureau to see if it’s in good standing.
You can often find red flags by entering their name and company name into a Google search and entering terms which include “scam,” “rip off,” “complaints,” or court. This will often unearth any red flags about the person or company.
Take this a step further by checking out feedback from those that have used their services through reviews on Google business listing, Angies List, Yelp, Houzz, etc.
Ask the right questions
While references are great, they aren’t tailored to your specific project and needs. Pre-screening will allow you to identify the right contractor and help avoid getting ripped off. Set up a time to meet them in person to show the project. This is where you will get a lot of information about their work ethic and knowledge.
Do they show up on time and act professional? Do they seem knowledgeable and capable in the various dilemmas you are facing with your project? Throughout this process, how well do they communicate and do they make you feel like you’re in the right hands?
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These are some questions you can use to pick their brain:
- How long have you been a contractor or in this line of work? (it goes without saying, someone without enough experience will put your project in jeopardy)
- How big is your team and do you have people on staff to fill in? (having a larger team is indicative they have many projects on the pipeline and have enough staff to fill for subcontractors without delaying a project)
- When will you be able to take on my project? (a busy contractor is usually a good sign they are in demand)
- What is your payment schedule? (work out a plan to make payments at the completion of certain milestones)
- Get contact information for subcontractors and suppliers they’ve worked with. (This will let you know if they’re paying their men and suppliers one time, and firsthand experience of those working with them on the front lines day-in and day-out.
See their in-progress projects
Take the time to visit a number of current projects the contractors currently have in progress. See how many employees are onsite, does the jobsite seem in working order, is the workmanship up to your expectations? If you’re brave, ask for that project owners contact information to verify all the information you receive.
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There must be a detailed contract in place before any work begins, either drawn up by you or the contractor. This will ensure everyone is crystal clear about the deliverables, expectations, responsibilities and budgets.
The agreement should cover costs, approximate start and finish dates, a description of the products/services which are to be provided, payment terms, etc. You can never include too much detail. The contract spells out everything and will serve as a tool to mitigate any surprises during the project.