Last night, we were at a friend's house discussing home renovation projects. This is a common topic whenever we visit another family's home, since we're all trying to improve our nests to make them more attractive and functional. It got me thinking about the most daunting challenge new home buyers face: finding good, reliable, contractors.
We've all had experience with tradespeople because no matter how handy you/your family might be, at some point you're going to have to hire someone to work for you. I've spent hours researching and calling contractors and even more time waiting, endlessly, for people who promised they'd show up and never did. The fact that they don't show up, that they're forfeiting business in this economy, boggles my mind. As friends and neighbors discuss home projects, we vehemently dish on who NOT to hire even more than who's good! I think the stat is for every person you tell about a reputable firm, you're going to tell 10 people about a disreputable one. I've found that to be true. People may be secretive about recommending someone, because once you've found a firm or person you trust it's like you're sitting on a mound of gold. But folks are extremely vocal about companies they don't trust because they want to get the word out about these shysters.
According to New Jersey's Acting Director for the Division of Consumer Affairs Steve Lee, “When contractors fail to comply with the law, or the terms of their contracts, consumers can be left with costs in the tens of thousands of dollars and a house full of unfinished improvements.” No fooling. Anyone who has been hosed by a contractor knows how difficult it is not only to get retribution, but to fix shoddy work done by an inept buffoon. So how do you find and hire a good contractor?
- Do your research. Ask around and get personal recommendations from people. Look at sites you trust that post reviews and ratings. Really READ the reviews and don't just go by the number of stars they've merited. Also search for the company's name with words like “scam,” “rip-off,” or “complaint.”
- Look for qualifications, like licensing. Not every state requires this for all work, but you should check with your local building department or Division Of Consumer Affairs (here's link to an Index of State And Local Consumer Agencies: http://www.usa.gov/directory/stateconsumer). If licensing is required, ask to see a copy of the contractor's license to make sure it's current.
- Compile a list of prospects. There's a language to some repairs, terms you may not know. Having at least three possible contractors allows you to compare prices and become more knowledgeable about the work they recommend. Ask why they're recommending something. When you have a question about anything, don't be afraid to ask.
- Get estimates in writing. Ask one why his/her prices are higher than someone else's. And don't be afraid to ask them to meet a lower price. Contractors may be willing to negotiate to get the business. We've saved thousands of dollars doing this. Just be kind and professional.
- Ask how many projects like yours have been completed in the last year so you can see how knowledgeable the firm is with your project. You don't want them learning while they're working on your house.
- Find out whether a permit is required and who is responsible for getting the permit(s).
- Get a list of references and don't be shy about calling them. Ask the clients whether the work was completed on time, if there were unanticipated costs, whether the workers/foreman showed up on time and whether they cleaned up after themselves. After a recent roofing project, I was delighted to see the workers painstakingly going over my patio and lawn with magnets to make sure there weren't any nails around.
- Ask what type of insurance the contractor carries and tell them you want to see copies of insurance certificates to make sure they're current. A reputable contractor won't mind producing this. Without insurance, you may be liable for injuries and damages that happen during the project.
- Find out if subcontractors will be used and make sure they have the proper insurance coverage and licenses, too. Again, you need to be protected.
- Understand your payment options and do NOT pay cash. Similarly, try to limit your down payment even if the contractor isn't thrilled with this. Our town limits the amount of money requested as a down payment. Contact your municipality or local consumer agency (see the link above) to find out the law in your area.
- Get a written contract even if your state doesn't require one.
For more information on how to hire a contractor, visit:
- The Federal Trade Commission's website: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0242-hiring-contractor#Finding
- ThisOldHouse.com: http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20539027,00.html
After the work has been done, if you're happy with the contractor, remember to recommend him/her to your friends. A lot of these people get work via word-of-mouth. Get the word out and make sure your friends tell the contractor that you've recommended them. Reputable tradespeople work hard, often in all kinds of weather and under difficult conditions. They deserve all the praise they merit!
Please note that this article was used as a reference in the writing of this post.
Thank you for reading!