Contractors

Finding good contractors can be very difficult.

Here are some red flags to look for:

  • They don’t have a contractor’s license or a license number on the business card.
  • You had to call more than once to set up the appointment.
  • They don’t show up and then call you later to reschedule.
  • They say they are very busy but you will be “worked in.”
  • They say they only do big jobs, but will do this one “just for you.”
  • They seem unfamiliar with what you are talking about or they dismiss your point of view.
  • They start “puffing” up the job needs right away.
  • They seem slick – you are uncomfortable or you have a bad feeling.
  • They offer no physical address.
  • They don’t offer referrals of satisfied customers, or they are vague or offer only two or three.
  • They say you don’t need a contract – they like to work informally.
  • They can’t quote actual costs and say they will work hourly until the job is done.
  • They say you don’t need permits – this is usually nonsense.
  • The contractor is evasive about insurance coverage.
  • The contractor doesn’t belong to any professional or business organizations.

Take your time and be thorough in your search.

Here are just a few places to start looking for the best contractor for your job:

The internet is a great source. A well known website for contractors is the National Association of Home Builders.

Also try and find websites that rank contractors, like Yelp.com or AngiesList.com which charges a small monthly or annual fee, and uses credit card information to prevent anyone from creating more than one login in order to post multiple reviews.

You can get a report about a contractor’s licensing, bonding, insurance, bankruptcy, civil judgments, criminal background, liens, and credit rating for a small fee at ContractorCheck.com, run by the credit bureau Experian.

Also check with:

  • Relatives
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Business Colleagues
  • Lenders
  • Architects/Designers
  • Real Estate Agents
  • Suppliers

Finding reliable contractors has never been particularly easy. It doesn’t seem to matter who refers you to someone, you can follow all the conventional rules to screen people and still come up with someone who does a shoddy job, takes your money, and won’t return your phone calls.

“Real world” information on the subject is hard to find.

Most conventional wisdom on finding and dealing with contractors is authored by people who write for a living and don’t have the advantage of hands-on experience in construction. The below comes from an actual contractor:

FIRST, it simply is not easy to find a good contractor.

  • Yellow Pages are really hit or miss, and flyers in your mailbox or posters on a telephone pole are usually invitations to disaster.
  • Referrals from friends and neighbors are a good start, but those referrals need to be qualified and checked as carefully as you would anyone else.
  • Material suppliers and hardware stores are a possible resource, but those referrals need to be qualified and checked as carefully as you would anyone else.
  • Engineers and architects can be good sources, but those referrals need to be qualified and checked as carefully as you would anyone else.
  • Property managers work with contractors on a routine basis, but those referrals need to be qualified and checked as carefully as you would anyone else.

The absolute best way to find a good contractor is by trusting your instincts, using common sense, and educating yourself about what needs to be done. You don’t have to be an expert in plumbing, carpentry, heating and air conditioning, etc. by any means. But some time spent on research will put you in a position to evaluate what you’re being told by the contractors you’re interviewing for your job. We spend two weeks researching consumer magazines before buying a $50.00 toaster, then turn around and spend thousands of dollars on a renovation project without exercising due diligence in checking out the contractor thoroughly.

Be prepared with specifications and a budget

SECOND, be prepared with specifications and a budget if your job is fairly extensive. Contractors can give you the price of what you want done, or they can tell you what they can do for what you have to spend, but ideally you’re going to specify both exactly what you want done along with a close approximation of how much you can afford to spend. Professional contractors and tradespeople will appreciate you taking care of these basics, will be more responsive as a result, will quickly determine if you can afford what you want, and will help determine how much of what you want is possible with your budget. You’ll have the assurance that everyone you’re interviewing to do the work is pricing the same job.

THIRD, find a contractor with an established business.

  • Please don’t misunderstand, everyone has to get started at some point and the fact they don’t have a lot of experience doesn’t mean they can’t do a beautiful job. Get an idea of what experience and training someone new to the business has and help them launch a new career if you feel comfortable.
  • Check at least a half dozen references by phone, and go to the trouble of looking at some jobs the contractor has done in the past if you have a project more extensive than a minor repair. It’s always a good idea to actually talk with the people who had the work done.
  • Ask the contractor about who he or she uses for materials and supplies.
  • What professional association(s) does the contractor belong to? NARI (The National Association of the Remodeling Industry) members are good bets.
  • Make absolutely certain the contractor is insured for both Worker’s Compensation and General Liability. Don’t take the contractor’s word or accept a copy of an insurance binder from the contractor. The only proper way is to get the name of the contractor’s insurance carrier, look the number up in the phone book yourself, then call and ask for a Certificate of Insurance. The carrier will be happy to send you one.

Get everything in writing

FOURTH, remember that the key to a good job is a good contract with detailed specifications. This means get things in writing every single time you have work done stating exactly what you expect, precisely what you understand you’re agreeing to pay, and when you’re going to pay it. No doing business on a hand shake! If a contractor balks at doing an exhaustive job of determining what you want and putting it in writing, find another contractor. Having a good contract is basic to being a professional.

FIFTH, your job has to be administered closely.

  • Somebody has to look at what’s going on frequently and carefully. No one is going to be more interested in your job than you. Take time to talk with those actually doing the work. Don’t get in the way, but let workers know you’re interested in the work being done.
  • Periodic progress photos are an easy way to resolve questions and disputes and track progress.

SIXTH, you control the job by controlling the money.

  • Don’t give down payments for materials, mobilization costs, labor, or anything else unless you really know what you’re doing.
  • Don’t pay for work not done to your satisfaction.
  • Set up progress payments based on when certain phases of the work are completed. There’s no question about when the painting starts, but there may be an argument about when the painting is finished.