Hiring a contractor to work on your home is never an easy thing to do and can often be a stressful undertaking in and of itself. However, what is even more difficult and stressful is hiring the wrong contractor. Hiring the wrong contactor can be disastrous, lead to more money spent than what should have been spent in the first place and more than likely lead to a second contractor search to fix the mistakes of the first contractor. Never fear. Here is a helpful checklist of things you should do and not do when looking for someone to professionally work on your home.
- a background check on the contractor before you hire them
- think about how the price has been presented to you
- check on the contractor’s responsiveness to honoring their warranty
- ask to speak with one of the contractor's job site managers
- ask to speak with the contractor's suppliers
- fall into the “coupon trap” deal
- be vague about the project with the contractor
- start the project without a written contract
- work with a contractor that does not provide a written warranty
- become overwhelmed by the process of choosing the right contractor
Determine what (if any) trade organizations the potential contractors belong to. Are they a member of a Builders Association, The Better Business Bureau, or some other type of industry specific trade organization? Contractors that are members are usually more serious about their trade than those that are not. Make sure the contractor is in good standing with these organizations.
Check to see if the contractor is registered, licensed and bonded as appropriate for the particular state/municipality that you live in. If they say they are, ask them about it and note how they react to your questions. Are they defensive or do they seem to be truly forthcoming? A defensive response is a red flag and something you should follow up on.
Has the price been presented to you in a professional manner? It should be in a proposal format making it easy to read and understand what is included and excluded in the job. The proposal should detail all aspects of the project including a full description of the project’s details, a floor plan perspective for large projects, a list of materials and a detailed breakdown of the budget. There also should be a detailed explanation of the payment plan.
Do read the proposal cover to cover and make sure you understand everything. This is the time to ask questions. The last thing you want to do is find yourself in a situation where something that you had wanted to clarify but didn’t then comes back to bite you during the project.
Ask to speak to several people who have had to invoke their warranty with the contractor. Most contractors can and are willing to supply a list of satisfied customers. But you really need to speak with previous customers who asked the contractor to come back and service something that broke or is wrong after the project. If a contractor is not willing to have you talk to these customers, there is probably a reason behind it.
It is extremely important that you feel confident knowing that if there is a problem within the contractor’s warranty period that they will come back and fix it for you in a timely manner without much pushback. References from individuals who are satisfied with how the contractor handled warranty claims are much more powerful testimonials than the “three references” that contractors often provide when bidding on a project
You should be comfortable with the individuals who will actually be working in your home. Speaking with the contractor is great, but they may or may not be the ones on the job site doing the actual work. You should ask to meet and speak with the contractor’s job site managers.
If you get a great feeling from the job site manager, there is a good chance your project will proceed more smoothly. On the other hand, if you are uncomfortable around one of the contractor's lead employees, this is a sign to either contract with someone else or ask for different onsite workers. There are always some challenges during any project, so be sure you're working with people you feel you can easily communicate with.
To gain an understanding of the contractor’s reputation, ask the contractor for contact information and follow up with the contractor’s suppliers. Suppliers are usually straightforward about how they feel about a particular contractor. If they believe the contractor to be reputable, they will surely let you know this. Conversely, if they do not hold the contractor in the best regard, they may share this with you or at least describe the contractor using words that will indicate something is not quite right. Ask the suppliers for the history of payments from the contractor for previous projects.
There are many “coupon traps” out there. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true than it probably is. There is usually some type of quality or pricing catch that creates the “coupon trap” costing the consumer more than they expected. The “$99 whole room paint job” or the “whole home carpet install for $49” type deals are not only unrealistic but often create tremendous misconceptions of what a true “quality” job accurately costs. Don’t use coupon prices as a guide for a fair price for your project.
Many people jump at coupon offers because they assume that they will be getting quality work for a great price. This is rarely the case. Often the project is of low quality, not completed by professionals, or breaks and has issues very soon after the project is completed.
If you are tempted by one of these “coupon offers”, it is extremely important to do due diligence and still fully vet any contractor who may be behind one of these offers. As a sign says at a Providence, RI lumber supplier – “the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
Whether large or small, you need to have a general understanding of what you actually want done in the project before your initial meeting with a contractor. When you do meet with the contractor, you need to be able to communicate your needs and wants so the contractor can prepare a proper quote and project proposal. If you do not know what you want and/or are not able to clearly communicate the scope of the project to the contractor, how do you expect the contractor to know what you want?
For larger projects (kitchen remodels, an addition, etc.) you may need to work with a design firm or perhaps look for contractors who also offer design services to help you determine project specifics and plans. For smaller projects (gutter installations, restaining the deck, etc.) you should still have an idea of what you expect. Don’t waste your or the contractor's time. Be prepared with specifics when you first meet with the contractor.
After you have completed all your due diligence on the contractor and you are comfortable with the details in the project proposal, you should still have a written contract before the contractor actually starts working or ordering project supplies.
The contract should include all the agreed upon items specific to the project including a detailed list of all the costs for the work and materials, the contractor’s key points of contact, the start and expected completion dates and, perhaps above all else, exactly what is and is not included in the scope of the project. The more specific the details the better!
The contract should also contain a mutually agreed process for how things will be added or subtracted from the project scope once the project has begun. Many projects usually involve a change or two as the work progresses. During a project there are often a variety of things that happen that are unforeseen and unpredictable. Customers also often want to make changes as the project progresses. Make sure that you understand the process on how these types of changes will be addressed, priced, and brought into the schematics of the project. This will minimize the chances for uncomfortable confrontations later on and will provide peace of mind for both yourself and the contractor.
It is one thing for a contractor to say they back up their work, it is far better if they will put it in writing in the form of a warranty. A warranty should spell out what is and is not included and covered under the warranty, how long the warranty period lasts, if it covers subcontractors’ work or only work by employees of the contractor, if it covers both time and materials, and the process for contacting the contractor if you need to ask for a warranty service call. The written warranty should be as detailed as the actual contract for the work. Without a warranty or a detailed warranty you can be left having to hire another contractor to fix the work of the first contractor.
A home is usually a person’s biggest investment and something they care deeply about protecting. A good contractor knows this too. Just the idea of having strangers in your home, disruption to the daily routine, construction mess, smell of paint, inconveniences in moving about, often creates stress all by itself. Never mind the stress associated with the anticipation and actual end product.
Remember, a good contractor will have seen almost everything before that has and could happen with your type of project. A good contractor will make you feel at ease through the planning process and through the project itself. In choosing a contractor you will conduct due diligence but you should also trust your gut, trust your instincts and try to relax. A good contractor may cost more, but the piece of mind is worth it.
Hiring a contractor who is someone you don’t know can be a very stressful situation. You can minimize this stress by having a definitive plan for your project and having a clear process on how you are going to select your contractor.