When you just can’t (or don’t want to) do it yourself….7 Tips for choosing a good contractor

After a long summer vacation, I am ready to get back to work!  My latest project is a 1924 duplex restoration and I’m beyond thrilled to get my hands dirty again!   I love a good challenge when it comes to performing my own improvements, but sometimes, there are things better left for a contractor.  Or, maybe you just don’t have the time to do it yourself and need to hire a contractor.  Perfectly understandable.  In my case, the duplex has some foundation and roof work and this is obviously beyond anything I feel the need to be challenged with.  Finding a good contractor can be a tedious task, but its a necessary process that shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Hopefully in the end, its all worth it for both you and your contractor.

There are many great contractors out there, just like there are unfortunately, plenty of bad ones. Here a few tips to ensure a good relationship from start to finish:

1)   Get at least 3 written estimates

You may be surprised that prices will vary between contractors.  I also use the bidding process as an education.  Ask lots of questions about what to expect from start to finish.  This will help you fine tune the other estimates you get.  If you forgot to ask something, feel free to circle back to ensure you have 3 very comparable estimates.  Also, if they show up late for the estimate appointment, take it as a good sign of how they may treat your job.

Also, if a contractor asks you who they are bidding against, politely tell them you won’t divulge that information.  It is my opinion that every contractor should give their best first estimate.  Every industry is a small world and employees and trade secrets move around.  Armed with information that they are bidding against a known competitor, suddenly, you just changed their bid.

2) Make sure they have insurance

Always get a current certificate of insurance showing a minimum of $500,000 general liability ($1,000,000 is better) and a workers compensation policy (some states like Texas have a statutory requirement for employers to insure their employees for “on the job injury”).  Accidents do happen, even if no one wants it occur on their property, so be smart about this part of the qualification process.

3) Bigger is not always the best

Big advertisers only means that the advertising is paid by passing the cost on to consumers and doesn’t necessarily mean you get what you are paying for.  When getting estimates, shuffle the deck and get a small company to bid against a large company.

4) Get only a free estimate

Contractors that want to charge you for the initial visit just to see what your job entails are typically not worth your time since they don’t actually perform any repairs.  There are plenty of other companies that offer free estimates.

5)  Get references and check your local better business bureau

A contractor willing to provide references has nothing to hide and show pride in their work.  Don’t rely on a personal reference alone however since it may be an old friend you are speaking to.  Check out other resources such as BBB or search engines.  We are in an information society and you might be surprised at what you find freely on the internet.

Also, most professions have trade groups that accredit or license the individuals that work in that trade and ensure a certain level of ethics, quality and education standards.  Most companies that have these qualifications proudly display this on all communications but if they don’t, ask them what qualification or licensing they may have.

6)  Put all the business terms and your agreement in writing before scheduling the work.

No one likes surprises, not even the contractor.  If you are concerned about something, discuss it and put in writing so there are no misunderstandings later.  Most contractors actually appreciate this effort because a good contractor wants you to be satisfied in the end so they get paid.  Be aware that many states have very “contractor friendly” laws in place that protect them from non-payment for work performed on your property so a good solid contract that outlines your expectations is a wise tool to have in the event a dispute arises.

7) Never pay in advance

Some contractors ask for a down payment with full payment upon completion.   This is usually negotiable if you ask what it is for.  It is usually a means for covering some of their “up front costs” such as materials, dumpster delivery, etc.  I can’t blame them for not wanting to be out of pocket, but usually if you ask what the down payment is for, you can find a compromise that works for both of you.  Ask instead if you can pay for materials upon receipt showing you as the end user, or even pay directly to their supplier, and ensure the materials are delivered and stored on the job site.  That way, if the contractor never returns, you aren’t out any money because you have something tangible for your payment.  No advance payment for no labor performed isn’t reasonable and if they insist on this, be wary.

I have made many great contacts through the years and believe in long term relationships with good contractors.  Do your homework first, then fulfill your end of the agreement and they fulfill theirs and everyone is happy.  Feel free to ask any questions or add comments from experiences you’ve had.

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