First, when searching for the “right” contractor/company, you should be looking for three qualities. The contractor should be trustworthy, value and service oriented. I know this may sound rather obvious, but the more challenging issue is how do you best go about this assessment? By following the recommendations presented in this document, you can significantly improve your chances in finding the right contractor and the successful completion of your home project, no matter how big or small.
Before presenting the “Do’s” in the contractor selection process, it is important to first mention what NOT to do.
- rely solely on the recommendation from one or two people you know. This does not ensure that the contractor performs at a consistent high level and does not ensure that they will fix to your satisfaction any problems that might arise. Keep in mind not all projects go perfectly even for top performing companies, so you will want to choose a company who will rectify any legitimate concerns you may have with the work performed.
- rely solely on the information provided by consumer agency/service based resources such as The Better Business Bureau or other consumer services. They are good resources, but have their limitations.
- assume bigger means better. Many smaller companies can offer great value and service because they have less overhead to absorb and can better focus on their smaller customer base.
- be fooled by fancy or expensive advertising. Some of best companies are smaller entities who do little if any advertising.
- get taken in by businesses who solicit door-to-door (e.g. be very leery of “door knockers).
- be pressured by businesses who ask you to make an immediate decision.
- as a general rule, do NOT do business with someone who asks for full payment up front. Do understand that many businesses may ask for partial or progress payments to cover material and other costs and for good faith demonstration by the homeowner.
Now for the “Do’s” in finding the best contractor… It is important NOT to solely rely on any one or two of these recommended steps, but to consider them in aggregate.
- begin with a basic consumer service/agency check. The check should include the Better Business Bureau and Google or other browser search of company. These are good resources to start a search and are easily accessed via the Internet.
- check with others you trust for recommendations.
- ask contractors in different but somewhat related fields for recommended contractors (e.g. drywall professionals tend to know of good painters and visa versa).
- ask contractor how long the company has been operating and the work related experience of the owner and employees who will be working on the project. You should be more concerned about the work experience than the longevity of the company.
- keep an open mind and look for small “hidden gem” companies.
- look for contractors who are flexible and open to work with you in the project design and progress.
- ask for proof of business liability insurance and licensing documentation (where required).
- request at least two bids for medium size projects (and more for larger projects) from initially screened contractors.
- ask about warranty/guarantee, if appropriate for project (and get it in writing).
- ask about contract details/specifics, including payment arrangements (and get it in writing).
- ensure you receive quote (with appropriate details) in writing before work begins. Some companies may try to expedite getting you their quote via a verbal quote, but make sure to have them follow-up with the quote in writing before you proceed.
- For larger projects – check with the Consumer Affairs Division of the Indiana Attorney General Office for customer complaints against candidate contractors.
- For larger projects – call and ask to speak with the owner of the company and ask specific questions to assess trustworthiness, value and service orientation.
- For larger projects – ask the company owner if they are willing to provide a few customer references for recently completed jobs (with special focus on if the contractor took care of any problems/issues identified by the customer).
Many of the above recommendations above work very well for projects that can be planned far enough in advance; however, not all home projects can be planned in advance (e.g. the furnace that goes kaput). What I recommend for these unplanned projects is doing your homework well in advance so that you have your contractor candidates already identified in the event you need their services. A good rule of thumb is to understand that it is “not a matter of if, but when” the furnace or other major mechanical equipment will fail, so be prepared!