Most of us have been there, wanting to get a home project done and not knowing how to go about it. Hiring strangers to work on or in your home can be a nerve-racking process. And picking up the phone book or your smartphone and doing a quick search for “contractors” isn’t always the best first step. Here are a few tips to make sure you can sleep easy and get the work done the right way.
Hire someone you are familiar with. A good place to start is asking friends and family about work they’ve had done or contractors they have had good experiences with previously. I have friends and family who are tradesmen, and reputation is paramount to their business. My first phone call when looking to get work done is to them, asking who they know that does what I am looking for. I know I can trust them, and if they trust someone else, it goes a long way. If you ask a friend and don’t hear glowing reviews about the work others have had done, it may be best to stay away. On the flip side, there can be a downside to hiring someone you are too familiar with, as there could be disputes and disagreements on quality and timelines. Make sure you’re comfortable with communicating expectations with the contractor you end up hiring.
Do your research. If you don’t know anyone who’s had work done recently, I would probably start on the web, but be careful. A few places to look to initially vet your potential contractor are the Better Business Bureau, your state attorney general’s office, and Angie’s List. These websites will show you complaints, lawsuits, and customer feedback (sometimes for a small fee). In Wisconsin, where I am from, there is also a circuit court site that shows criminal history. I don’t hire someone without checking that out.
Always get more than one bid for your work. Find a few reputable contractors in the area, and make sure their bids are “apples to apples” so you can do a proper comparison. Of course, price is a concern, but quality should be even more important—that’s where you’ll save in the long run. When getting bids, be sure to ask for referrals, pictures of previous jobs, and make sure they provide a warranty.
A good contractor will provide details. If you’re looking at getting an exterior door replaced, the quote could say “door replacement” with a dollar amount, or it could say door replacement, exterior trim, interior trim, insulation, and labor, each with its own price. The more detail listed on a bid, the better you can understand what you’re paying for. You should also have a proposed time frame in writing. Make sure this step is clearly laid out; you don’t want to have a project waiting around for six months. Good contractors will also have their insurance certificate and license immediately available upon request.
A few key things to avoid. If a contractor asks you to pay in cash, be wary. They may be trying to play games with their taxes. How responsive are they? Do they take two weeks to return your call, or are they prompt and courteous of your time? If they tell you to forego the building permit, you may want to look elsewhere.
Following these tips can help take some of the stress out of your next home project. Of course, these aren’t foolproof, and there are a lot of other things people may look for in a potential contractor, so feel free to share your experiences—good and bad—in the comments!