How to Find a Good Contractor? Step 1, Research Step 2, The Interview

In the business of buying and selling houses we are constantly working with subcontractors. The number one key to our success has been and continues to be that we work with great people. Hiring a qualified contractor, that is trustworthy, is one of the most important aspects of any renovation or remodel project you are starting in on. For us, we have our general contractor licensing and have been building, flipping and renovating houses for over 22 years; we know exactly what to look for. The most common problems that one will run into in any construction project are: change orders that lead to overrun budgets and keeping to schedule. This blog intends to help guide you through the process of finding and hiring good contractors.

The best way to find good people is through referrals. Someone that you trust who has already built a relationship with a contractor. Your friends and family have already done the preliminary leg work for you. Another great place to look is Next Door. We find Next Door more reliable than Yelp! The rule of thumb when hiring for any kind of service work is to get at least three quotes. Now, some people are bound to take the cheapest quote, poor move. Price should be a consideration but not the only consideration.

It is time to begin the interview process. Take your time with this. Before even picking up the phone, do your research. The most common avenue of research is by doing a Google Search.

Internet Lesson, Did you Know?
The most common method is starting by doing a Google Search. The ad results at the top of the page are not reliable. Have you heard of PPC or “Pay Per Click,” ? The way google ads work is that companies pay a fee each time their ad is clicked which drives the “Googler,” to their website which in turn drives up their ranking. How Google ranks web pages is a whole other ball game but it doesn’t necessarily correlate with the best. 25% of people click on the very first search result and most people never look past the first page of results. Be aware of how you are being driven and check out page 2 and 3.

After you have clicked to the second, third and even fourth Google page of the results, check out the contractors website. A contractor’s website should be a reflection of the kind of standards and qualities they deliver in their work. Those who can afford to have a well built website and take their time to keep it up to date reflects on the overall quality of a company but their website is not the end all be all. In fact, some of our subcontractors don’t even have a website. They get their business entirely by referrals and have so much work that they have to turn people down sometimes. That is the guy you want!

Which leads us to our next point of research: testimonials. Check out the reviews, get an idea of what people are saying about the company. It should be noted that one bad apple isn’t a reflection of the company. There are sadly ill intentioned, poorly mannered and sometimes down right vicious people out there who leave bad reviews that couldn’t be further from the truth. Look at the overall review feedback. Note how the company responds to the reviews. You may also ask when you speak to the contractor for direct referrals.

Time for the preliminary call.

You want the person on the other end to give you your full attention. If they are rushing you through the call to schedule a meet and greet, odds are they will not be able to give your project the full attention it deserves. A good contractor should have the patience and the answers to the outlined questions below.

The Questions:

1. How long have you been in business? Tell me a little bit about your company.

2. Do you have a contracting license? You want to double check their contracting license number with state boards and ask to see their certificate of insurance. A contractor should have both workers’ compensation and liability insurance specific to their type of work.

3. While you are discussing the scope of work, see how they engage with it, do they ask follow up questions, have they done similar projects? What potential problems do they foresee?

4. Who will be working on my project, tell me about your team. The team is going to be in your home around your family, you want to know who they are. You want to know if it will be the same team. Is there a project manager or project lead? Who is your point of contact for boots on the ground and your point of contact for the entirety of the project?

5. Will you obtain the permits and handle the inspections that are required for this job? Do a little background research with your town’s building department. Get a rough idea of the permits needed and the fee schedule. I cannot tell you how many times subcontractors have inflated the permit process.

6. Timeline estimate. Push them on this. You want a contingency plan.

7. Payment schedule, pricing policy. This is so important. How will additional charges be dealt with? National average according to our friend Google, states that on average construction projects exceed their budget by 16% minimum. We always factor in the 20% potential, the rainy day fund if you will for unforeseen costs. How the change in fees is addressed must be clearly stated and outlined for you from the get go. You do not want any surprises.

8. How available are you, what can I expect for response time to my questions? What is the best way to get in contact with you? You want to make sure you have a designated point of contact who will get back to you in a timely manner.

9. Based upon the scope of work, you will want to know details. Have them walk you through step by step. If you move onto the next stage of meeting for a quote, make sure you are creating a paper trail especially when it comes to the pricing policy. Here are the details you will want to consider and have an action plan for:

a. How will you need to get the space ready for the contractor, will you need to rearrange furniture, clear things out, will you require shoe coverings?
b. When will construction days start and end?
c. What will the noise level be?
d. Will you need to be home? Do you have pets, what is your plan for your furry friends? This is a consideration for you not so much the contractor to answer.
e. What kind of trucks do you have, will you be able to park outside my home?
f. Restroom situation, what do you feel comfortable with? Make it clear, you don’t want to find a painter in the guest bathroom.
g. What power outlets will be used?
h. End of Day clean up: what’s your procedure, where are tools and materials stored?

10. What is your communication style? You want to be sure you and your contractor are on the same page every step of the way. Have the contractor repeat back to you, your direction.

A lot of the above mentioned questions might be saved for a face to face meeting. Often contractors need to see the space to come up with a proper quote. This is when you want to get down the brass tax of it all. Trust your gut. In the end, use your judgment. The success of a great construction project is having great people in your corner.

Recap: Do your research, listen to your gut, have a plan and a paper trail!