Updated: Dec 4, 2022
The information provided here is great, but very limited. For a detailed analysis of the due diligence you should be doing on your end when hiring a Contractor, read the eBook 9 Things to Know Before Hiring a Contractor by Scott Wadsworth, available on Amazon for only $5.
Home Improvement Projects are Big Ticket Items with Large Price Tags, so you want to make sure you don't end up wasting your time or money. Contractors have a bad reputation for doing things like cutting corners, over charging, and even being downright disrespectful to you and your property.
In this article, we're going to cover a few basic things you can do, and NOT DO, to help you ensure that you get a Professional Quality Contractor for your next project.
First and foremost, never choose a contractor based on the lowest price.
Not all Contractors are equal, lower prices mean lower quality. Most Contractors are competing for the lowest price. The only way they can accomplish that is by underpaying staff members and cutting every corner they can. But you want everything done right from the very beginning, right? And to a High Degree of Quality with Excellent Customer Service, right?
Well then, to make sure you get the right Contractor, here are 6 things to look for:
(1) Reviews and References
First and foremost, check reviews online and ask for References.
It's easy for contractors to forget to give this information out. We have millions of things on our mind all the time from all the liability we constantly have to manage. Sometimes we need to rely on our customers to their due diligence, as well, and ask us for certain things. Any good Contractor should be happy to give you a list of previous customers upon your asking.
To look up their reviews, simply type the business name of the Contractor you are researching into the Google search bar. If they are Google verified, this will pull up their Google Card which will give you a link to their website, some basic information, and links to any websites where they have profiles. If they are not Google verified, then that is a red flag that they don't do their due diligence considering Google is the most important way a business can be found today.
So, click on their reviews and give them a good read. Just keep in mind that a negative review doesn't necessarily mean they are a bad Contractor unless they have more bad reviews than good. If you come across a bad review for a Contractor, make sure you read their response to it. If they don't respond to bad reviews, that's also a red flag that they don't do their due diligence.
Otherwise, their response to a bad review can tell you a lot more about what kind of people they are than their good reviews can tell you. For example, are they thanking the customer for their feedback, so they can improve their services? Are they admitting to having made a mistake and offering to fix it? Or are they cursing the customer out for being a jerk and leaving a bad review?
Make sure you actually do call References. References are people you can call that have already worked with the Contractor and can you tell all about what it’s like to work with them, and how their experience was. If a contractor only gives you a list of 2 or 3 References, that’s a Red Flag. Why so few? If a contractor gives you a full page of References, that is good. That means they know that all their customers will say the same thing about them. You don’t have to call them all, but you want to know a contractor is willing to give that information away.
Next, make sure you take a look at their website. If they don't have one, that doesn't necessarily mean they are a bad Contractor, but it definitely shows that they aren't getting with the times.
The internet is the marketing sector of the present day. Without a website, most people will think a business doesn't exist.
A website is good for several reasons:
(1) it can give you a basic overview of the services they provide so you can make sure they are a good fit for you;
(2) it should have a portfolio of their previous work so you can get an idea of what they are capable of; and
(3) a great contractor will be transparent and explain all their processes, usually in a blog,
If they don't have a website, hopefully they at least have a profile or two on different platforms, like Home Advisor, Angie's List, Houzz, or Yelp so you can glean this kind of information from there. If they don't have a profile at all, you are better skipping over this one and moving on to the next.
You can't make an educated decision if you can't do proper research, and today, the internet is the way.
Believe it or not, this a scam. Whether a Contractor is paying a fee to the Better Business Bureau or a Home Builders Association really makes no difference at all. This was a long learned lesson for me, as I paid the BBB for years before realizing it's worthless.
Yes, the BBB and Associations do have certain professional guidelines they expect their Contractors to follow, but they don't necessarily enforce them. All accreditation really is, is a marketing strategy predicated on the idea that most people will believe that a Contractor is only professional if they are accredited. But these agencies don't actually do anything at all.
When you meet with each of the different Contractors, make sure you ask them open ended questions. What I mean by this, is don't ask "yes" or "no" questions like, "Do you do this?" or "Would you do that for me?" or "Do you do background checks on all your employees?"
Contractors are salespeople by nature, so many of them will simply say "Yes" to get the sale even if it is something they don't typically do.
Instead, ask questions like, "How would you go about doing something like this?" or "What is your process for this kind of work?" or "Can you explain, in detail, what your hiring process is?"
Asking questions like these forces the Contractor to give you more detailed answers without you giving a hint of the answer you're looking for. Not only will you learn a lot more by asking these types of questions, but you will also be able to ascertain whether or not a Contractor gives you the particular answer you want in an honest approach.
With open ended questions, you are safe to assume that if they don't say it, they don't do it. Just keep in mind that us Contractors have a million things going on in our minds at all times, so if you don't ask, it probably won't get answered. We depend on you to ask us questions, otherwise, we don't know what you need to understand.
Finally, judge the estimates you receive not by price, but by layout. Is the estimate understandable? Is it too simple? It is in the order in which the work will actually be done? Is it itemized so that you know what each different part will cost, or is it all lumped together into one price? Is it customized to your intentions? Can you clearly see where all the money is going so that the price makes sense to you?
Finally, how is their pricing broken down? Is the deposit requested more than 10% of the total contract? Is the starting price enough to include all the materials and the first portion of labor payroll? Are they asking you to pay too much money before the job is finished? Does the payment break down make sense for the length and scope of work involved?
Look for things like this: 10% Deposit; 50% Start Check; 20% Progress Check; 20% Finish Check. These numbers might be different based on the scope of your project, but you should never put down more than 10% on a contract, and you should never pay the final 10% until the job is 100% finished. This is the most widely accepted payment schedule in the industry.
If the payments don't make sense, it's a not a total write off, but it definitely requires looking further into. If they have a logical reason for it, and can make sense out of it, then fine, otherwise, red flag warning.
(6) License and Insurance
One last thing, never work with a Contractor that isn't Insured. Always ask your Contractor to see their Certificate of Insurance. Believe it or not, licensing isn't all that important in most states.
Personally, I am of the opinion that all States should have certification exams to prove that we have the required knowledge for Home Improvement Contracting work or Building and Construction work. But they don't actually do this. Most states simply charge a fee (like a tax), and the only benefit is that it allows the Contractor to pull permits themselves.
In reality, while I do maintain my State HIC License, it really can't be used to mark a Professional Quality Contractor for the same reason as Accreditation. It's just a fee that costs money but doesn't actually prove anything.
In the end, choosing the right contractor comes down discerning whether or not a contractor is actually trying to help you, or just trying to make money. What you need to do is figure out what they really care about - money, or people. As long as they care more about people than they do money, you've found a good one.
Don't get me wrong, we have to care about money too, but not at the expense of our humanity. That's the problem with today's world, however, is many people, including Contractors, are indoctrinated to care more about money than people. But at Harris Home Improvement, our goal is only to help you make the most educated decision possible, even if you don't choose us.
I hope this article was a bit enlightening for you. If you would like help choosing the right Contractor for you next project, give a call now for a Free Consultation! 860-817-7191