How to hire the best home improvement contractors

Over the years, I have had several interesting learning experiences when dealing with contractors. What follows is a list of observations and advice that will help customers when hiring a professional. Remember: The bottom line is to get the best job for the best price in the best amount of time.

Research the Problem

In recent years, the internet has grown to become a helpful resource for information. Do you have an issue with your home that none of your friends have encountered? Try Googling the problem. Chances are, other homeowners have faced similar circumstances, and posted something online. Frequently, I run across bulletin board discussions with questions and answers.

Keep in mind, however, that not all answers you encounter will be helpful. Try to identify about six or eight different sites, and read the proposed solutions. If they all seem to present the same answer, then you probably have a starting point.

Is this something you can do yourself? There are many online sites (YouTube being the most popular) that feature how-to videos. If the solution seems simple enough, you may be able to correct the problem without paying for the service. A trip to your local home improvement store may be all you require.

Ask Around – Don’t Hire Blindly

Do you want to know why so many businesses are named “AAA Roofing Company,” or “A. J. Smith Plumbing?” Because they show up first alphabetically in a phone listing. I can almost guarantee that “Aardvark Home Restoration” gets more calls than “Zoom Recovery Company.” Don’t fall for this. Ask your friends and neighbors for a referral first. Odds are, someone in your immediate network knows the right person, or at least has had a good experience with a professional.

If you absolutely MUST call from the phone book, work in reverse alphabetical order. You stand a better chance of getting someone out to your house in a timely manner if someone picks up the phone.

Get a Second Opinion

Several years ago, I encountered an electrical problem in my house: Two floors had lost power, but the other floor and basement were fine. The first electrician to investigate recommended that I spend a small fortune to re-wire the entire house. The second person to look at it identified the problem: A circuit had blown, and would need to be replaced. His estimate was much more affordable, so we hired him. Fortunately, the second electrician’s analysis corrected the problem.

Contractors Love to Bash Each Other

It seems that mentioning the name of one professional to a competitor yields a tirade about that person. A typical exchange goes something like this:

Contractor: “It looks like you had some shoddy work done on your gutters. Who did that?”
Me: “I think it was Bob Peterson.”
Contractor: “PETERSON? That guy’s a crook! I’m surprised he didn’t rip you off.”

Never, NEVER take anything one person says about his competition at face value. Sometimes there’s truth in it, but most of the time, it’s exaggerated to scare you away from hiring someone else.

Ask Questions

Before selling a house, I once hired an electrician to be sure the house was up to the current local codes. A few days into the project, he mentioned to me that he wasn’t licensed to work in my county, so I shouldn’t mention it to the buyer. If he wasn’t licensed, why did he take the job? I learned a lesson from that experience, and never hired him again.

Some Contractors Forget the Details

There have been a few occasions where I listed what projects I wanted to complete, but some components were never written on the estimate. Therefore, that work was never done. Other times, a company forgets what they already did.

The funniest example of the latter involves some roof work I had done. One Saturday, a roofer arrived with three helpers. They worked all morning, left for lunch, and didn’t return. The next day was Father’s Day, so I assumed they would come back on Monday. However, they still didn’t return. I finally called them to ask when they would be coming back, and they had no idea who I was. They didn’t return, and they never billed me either. Essentially, I had a morning’s worth of roofing done for free.

Get an Estimate

This may seem like standard practice, but be sure you get a written estimate from a contractor before agreeing to have work done. This will prevent you from any surprises when receiving your bill. It also allows you to shop around for the best deal, in case another professional can complete the job for a better price. Don’t settle on a verbal agreement, because you have no proof of a quote. Always get it in writing.

Follow Up

You hired someone who said he’d be over Tuesday, and it’s now Thursday? Call him, and keep calling him. Many professionals take on work that runs longer than expected, and they may be rescheduling you without telling you about it. Yes, they need to complete their work for another customer, but don’t forget that you need your work done as well. You should not be expected to give in to someone else’s problem. You may accommodate to an extent, but don’t become a doormat. Keep in touch with your contractor until your job is completed.

Avoid Hiring Friends

Unless you know a friend is absolutely fair, and will do a professional job for you, it’s best to hire someone else. If a friend’s work is substandard, or if there’s an issue with money, that friendship runs the risk of serious strain. It’s not worth losing a good relationship over a bad business deal. Try to keep your personal and professional relationships separate.

Pay on Time

If you hired someone to do work, make sure you have the funds to pay him in a reasonable time. This is good business practice, and will solidify your reputation with that person if he is to do work for you in the future. Deadbeat customers will find their voice messages unanswered over time.

Summary

Every homeowner will need to hire professionals to do work at various times. Knowing who to hire can be confusing, but the points above can help. Always remember to keep these relationships professional (don’t take things personally). You and the contractor are both looking for results that will be mutually beneficial. Don’t allow someone to take advantage of you, but be sure to pay them in a timely manner as well. Make your own interests clearly known, and work together to achieve your desired outcome.