Every project is different and the skills that a contractor needs to complete yours will vary. Unfortunately there is no perfect way to pick the right contractor especially when you haven’t worked with them before but lets go over a few tips that may help you reduce your headaches.
The first thing you need to realize is that nothing is ever perfect and every job will have its mistakes. This also means that every contractor will have a bad day or project so labeling them as the wrong company to hire should also be weighed with how they react to mistakes and how they make up for them. Then again you don’t want to hire someone who has their employees learn on the job at your expense.
So, How do you know who is the right person and how should you go about interviewing and Hiring them.
Word of Mouth
Probably the best way to interview someone is without their knowledge. If you call a company on the phone and ask Can you do this or that… if they are not up to the job but really need the work they will probably lie to you. On the other hand if you ask your friends or neighbors about contractors they have hired they will probably tell you the truth about how they work and what their prices are like.
If you see a contractor at your neighbors home, they could be a plumber or deck builder or landscaper or whatever, its an easy enough thing to walk by their home the next week and ask them: hey i saw you had a carpet cleaner in last week how did that go…. and they will probably tell you all about it and you might even make a new friend.
Now you might not need a Carpet Cleaner for the next 6 months or even ever but if you do you now know if that company is a decent one to contact.
Large Vs Small Companies
This really depends on the size of the project. If you are contracting with someone to cut your grass or surface your driveway there is no reason you can’t go with a single person contractor. If you are having an addition built on the side of your home you need a contractor with enough people to get the job done right and on time.
On the other hand some really large companies like Lowes, Home Depot and many others subcontract out their installs. If you ask your neighbor did you like the work they did you might end up with a totally different crew or even a different company performing the work.
You should ask whoever you hire do they use subcontractors and if they do you must get a waiver of lein from each contractor. You should also make each contractor show you their license and their insurance including workers comp insurance. And you should always hold accountable the main contractor for all work of the subcontractors even due to timeline problems. If they hire someone that pushed the completion time back you should make the main contractor eat that time or cost.
When you have narrowed down the selection to a few different companies that you want to get bids from you should conduct a personal interview with the owner or a representative.
During the interview you should ask them to provide a few similar projects that they have worked on although you can depend that any references are probably their very best work so keep that in the back of your mind.
License and Insurance
You should also ask them about their liability insurance, contractors license and workers comp insurance in case anyone gets injured. Never go with an unlicensed or uninsured contractor. Getting a License is very easy, often you just fill out a form and don’t even need to prove your skills. Insurance is relatively cheap and easy to obtain often only $500 a year for a Million Dollars in Coverage. So, anyone without these things doesn’t have a clue about the profession. They are not protecting themselves, their workers or their customers.
Payment Methods and Times
It is very important that you negotiate payment methods and times. If the job takes under a day you should expect to pay immediately.
If you are contracting for a larger project you should never pay up front for any not special order items. At the very worst you should agree to pay for normal materials when they are delivered to your home and in the best situation you pay for everything at the end of the job.
For normal items like an off the shelf water heater, standard sized cabinets, toilets, shingles for a roof, Lumber, all of these products are available from a supplier at any time or within a few days if they happen to be out of stock. You should never pay up front for all of these items or you should pay the supplier directly and have the materials shipped to your home and locked in your garage until the contractor comes to install them.
For things like Marble Counter tops, Special Order Cabinets, Windows, Doors you should ask to provide a down payment and the remainder on delivery. You may also want to contract directly with a supplier for these items when you can get them for the same price or lower then your contractor will mark them up.
Some contractors will ask for 1/3 or 1/2 up front and that is not reasonable. Think about it this way when you go to McDoogals they make you pay before they hand you your food. When you go to a $50 a plate restaurant they seat and feed you then bring you the bill. If you are willing to hand someone money up front make sure its a tiny amount and make sure the food is right there to be served. Don’t hand someone you just met a check for a couple grand get a handshake and let them walk away with it. You may not see them again but if they do come back it will be on their terms because they already have your money.
You should always get a start and approximate finish time for the work. If a contractor quotes that they will be there and the are a no show for a week this will hold up all of your other contractors. Additionally the time to complete work should be reasonable. They should take an industry standard amount of time not the time it takes them to get things done. I can not tell you how many jobs I have been on when employees of a contractor will sit around and do nothing all day. I personally saw one crew bbqing steaks while the customer was not home and then taking 4 days to vinyl side one side of a garage. I swear I saw this and it was amazing to see… I almost asked for a job working with them myself. hehe :o)
But Honestly due dates really matter when one contractors work slows down another. You can get in trouble with contractors backing out on you and you need to put clauses in your contract that say if they fail to perform the work BOTH correctly and on time that they will either lose money or open the door for you to fire them without notice and with full return of any deposit you may have been foolish enough to give them.
Contractors will fight you on Completion and Start Times but you have to do it if you want to retain any amount of sanity.
For instance if you are building an addition you will need a framer and electrician and probably a plumber then later a drywall contractor. Those three first jobs have to be done before the drywall can go up.
What you need to do is work closely with your electrician ask how much pre notice he needs and then tell him …. ok I need you out here in 3 days when the framing will be done. And then hold them to that. If he says I can make it in 4 days that is ok but if he says it will be 2 weeks thats not ok. In that case you say nothing and open your phone book or stack of business cards and see if you can get someone else out to the site. Then you call them back and say Ok i got someone else but if you show up before they do I will honer your contract. Most of the time they will just say do what you have to do and that means get someone new. Don’t be rude about it just tell them Maybe Next Time.
However if they bail on you in the middle of a project or if they take so many breaks that they push the end date past the agreed time you document it all and complain as it happens then when the due date arrives you have another crew show up and complete the work.
Remember Time is money and if they want to get paid $25 – $50 or more an hour they should act like professionals not like drunks with a hammer.
Tipping a Contractor
Having been on both sides of this I can tell you it has little to do with how they perform the work. Think about it someone just did work for you and they did it for an agreed price or as part of their salary if they are an employee. They are walking out the door and you hand them $5.
This is nice sure and it is reasonable if they go out of their way to take that refrigerator up 6 flights of stairs or come out in the middle of a storm to fix your heater but does it make any sense? Honestly, not really. So, only do it when someone goes beyond their job roll to give you a hand. If they deserve it then do it. If they are just doing their job then let your bill pay for their lunch when the boss pays them.
On the other hand if they do good work tell your friends about them and get them more work. This is probably more meaningful.
Finding a good Contractor is about a 50:50 deal. If you get a good one then try to hold on to them. If you get a bad one then let all your friends know. This is usually how it works out but you should always protect yourself with a good and fair contract and don’t prepay for work or materials unless they are special order and your contractor provides you with an order invoice from the supplier (that you verify).
You should take pictures before, during and after the work. Always have an adult on the premises who stays with the contractor while work is being completed. Never let a contractor have free access to your house unless you are not living in it.
Most people can lose $50 or $100 on a little thing and let it go but if you are talking real money don’t just be willing to sue you should investigate exactly what you will need to do to sue them. Call a lawyer, read about small claims suits on your state or county government websites, do whatever you need to do before you have a problem that way you won’t be running around asking for help. You will already know where to get help.