How to Hire a Contractor
When hiring a contractor of any kind around the home or office, be sure to establish some guidelines to help insure a positive experience. Take a little time to research the companies you are considering, and depend on your own good judgment. Try the following tips and see if your overall experience with contractors improves:
- Shop around for a specialist. If you need roofing, hire a roofer, not a remodeling contractor. Even within a particular trade, look for a company that has plenty of experience in the exact type of work you need done. Not every roofer would be qualified to repair or replace a slate roof, for example. Or for masonry repair, most bricklayers are unfamiliar with proper repair techniques and do not understand the critical need to match brick and mortar. Ask detailed questions about your job to get an idea about their knowledge and experience.
- Compare only apples to apples, and get it in writing. Some companies will stress their “low price” in sales presentations, but conveniently fail to mention their “low quality.” If you are a bargain hunter, educate yourself about all aspects of the job, or you may actually overpay by taking their “low price.” Especially if it’s a larger project over $1,000, get at least two qualified bids for your job. Even on small projects, try to get as much detail as possible in writing, specifying materials to be used, job schedule, payment terms, and scope of work. Have the contractor identify any other costs related to your project that are not included in his price. Keep a copy of your agreement, along with any sketches.
- Resist high-pressure sales techniques. Some companies offer price incentives good for “today only” to try to encourage a homeowner to make a decision on the spot. If a contractor is pressuring you to make a decision before you have a chance to do your homework, they may have something to hide. If you have an uneasy feeling about the person or the company, your gut feeling is usually right—trust your judgment and find someone else.
- Always check references. A qualified contractor should be happy to give you a list of several references you can call. Randomly contact two or three from the list (realizing that even the worst companies have a few happy customers) to get an idea of what kind of quality and service you can expect. Also ask about clean up, and if any problems or disagreements came up, how they were resolved.
- Don’t be pressured to pay early. Have you noticed that contractors typically are much less interested in making you happy once they have been paid? A reputable contractor should be prepared to finance the entire job until at least reasonable progress has been made. For work on owner-occupied properties, jobs less than $1,000 should not require any payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction, except perhaps a small down payment to give some assurance of your commitment. Larger jobs or those done on vacant or tenant-occupied properties may justify partial payment in advance or as the work progresses, but be sure to retain enough money to provide sufficient incentive to have the job completed in a timely, quality fashion. Consider making any necessary “up-front” payments by credit card to retain your rights in case your contractor skips town.
- Be patient in the busy season. Many service industries are seasonal, so during peak times, all of the better companies get backed up. Instead of waiting for a reputable company, you may be tempted to take a chance with any company that can start work right away. Before taking that risk, ask yourself, “If I were in L.A. on a Saturday night, would I eat at an empty restaurant that could serve me right away, or would I pick an establishment with several smiling customers?” In the long run, poor quality or broken promises may make you wish you had waited for a reputable, high-quality company in the first place.
- Check licenses and proof of insurance. Check with your city to see if your contractor’s license (if applicable) is current. Even more importantly, check the status of their insurance coverages by requesting that a current certificate of insurance be sent directly to you from the insurance company. Understand the basics of liability and workers compensation coverages (see details at Insurance) to know what risks you may be exposed to.
- Call or log on with the Better Business Bureau to check the company’s reputation. If a contractor has a habit of taking advantage of customers, the local BBB may be aware of it. They can provide you free information about how many complaints have been brought to their attention, and if they have been resolved satisfactorily. Be wary of any company for which the BBB has no information. This means they are either a new company with no background, or someone who has reopened under a new name to possibly try to avoid previous poor ratings. While you are there, check with the BBB for other consumer tips.
Congratulations! If you’ve checked off all the above issues, you’re probably ready to proceed with your company of choice. Two bonus tips to remember once you have made your decision:
- Avoid helping contractors with the job or lending them tools. It’s simply not professional or acceptable for a contractor to borrow tools from you. They may not be returned, or more importantly, they may be injured using your tools. If you lend a tool to a contractor, or are helping them perform the work, and they become injured in the process, they may be able to make a claim against you (sue you) for negligence. (See details at Insurance)
- Avoid cash payments and checks made out to individuals. Contractors demanding cash payments may be evading taxes or government regulations (such as green card requirements or child support payments). On the other hand, checks and credit card payments made directly to the company can always be documented for your protection. A cancelled check can be very useful if you ever need to prove you paid a bill. If you prefer to pay cash anyway, make sure to get a receipt.
We hope these guidelines have aided you in finding the right contractors to serve you ethically and professionally. When it comes to brick repair, Brick Doctor is committed to providing you a positive experience and a top quality job…we would appreciate any opportunity to serve you! Contact Us.