Hiring a bad contractor is a nightmare for many homeowners. Either the work winds up shoddy and has to be redone or the contractor skips out with your money and unfinished work left behind. Either way, hiring the wrong person to work on your house costs you time and money as a homeowner — not to mention aggravation.
Ideally, you would have a list of contractors you’ve worked with before and know do stellar work. The reality is that you likely only need someone with a certain skillset once every 10 or 20 years and have to choose one from a list of potential contractors. Follow the tips below before hiring a professional to work on your home and you’ll reduce the risk of getting a shyster.
Before you call contractors to give you quotes, take the time to ask for references from people you know who have recently had similar work done. They have firsthand experience with the contractor and can give you a good idea of the quality and value of the professional’s work.
Next, take the names you’ve gathered from friends, family and even off lists such as jobsites and Craigslist and do a thorough online review for both positive comments and complaints. Check the Better Business Bureau website for a listing and delve into any complaints filed against them. Even if the charge is marked as resolved, read through the responses from the business. The way they respond to an unhappy customer is quite telling.
You can also read reviews on Facebook and simply do a search for the company name, location and add a word such as “complaints” or “reviews” to the search string.
When a contractor arrives to give you a quote, use the opportunity to ask a lot of questions. For example, if you’re hiring a roofing contractor, inquire about the level of insurance they maintain. Roofers should have a liability policy between $500,000 and $1 million at a minimum. Any type of contractor should be bonded and maintain insurance. Requirements may vary.
Research the repair job online so you have a general understanding of what’s needed to complete the task. Ask pointed questions about the process and materials used and take notes of the answers. You can always double-check the answers against what other contractors said and through your own research to make sure your contractor actually knows what they are doing.
Compare the Bids
Your father likely told you the old rule of thumb to throw out the highest and the lowest bids on any job. While you don’t necessarily have to toss those bids, pay careful attention to the ones in the middle of the pack. If you have several bids around the same range, this is likely a good estimate of what the project actually costs.
A low bidder may come back and ask for more money when they don’t have enough to complete the job. A high bid is simply more than you need to pay. Narrow your choices down to two or three that seem reasonable.
Now, go back to your research and see who has the best reviews. You can also mention to the middle-of-the-road contractors that you have a lower bid and ask if they will drop their price. However, don’t let a few hundred dollars mean the difference between hiring an amazing contractor with excellent reviews or hiring someone new to the game and unsure of what they’re doing.
Insist on a Contract
A contract protects both you and the professional. It lays out what work is to be completed for the estimated amount and what contingencies might change the price — for example, if you ask for additional work. If you have a lawyer on retainer, have them look over the contract. If you don’t want to spend money on a lawyer, read the agreement carefully and look for any issues in the wording.
Ideally, the job will be completed in a timely manner and as agreed, but if not, you can always point the contractor back to the agreement. In a worst-case scenario, you’ll have a binding contract for litigation purposes.
You need to trust your contractor before you allow a professional to upend your home. Hold them to certain standards and the original agreement in order to avoid a potential catastrophe, and be aware of the actions you can take in a worst-case scenario. If you’ve done your research and talked in-depth with the person you hire, you’ll likely find a good fit who will make your house as beautiful as you dreamed it would be.
Holly Welles is the editor of The Estate Update and writes home improvement pieces to help readers figure out what to do with their living spaces. You can find more of her advice by following her on Twitter @HollyAWelles.