Due Diligence, Research and Reviews

What does due diligence and research really mean when it comes to home improvements?  There are times, that after we show our customers how we can make the building sciences improve their homes, and do it for an affordable price, they say they need to do their due diligence and some research.  In an era where the internet affords you the ability to do this work beforehand, these steps should be done before you ever let a company rep into your home or on your property.

Here are the very minimum steps you should take:

  1. Look up the company.  Before letting someone into your home, look them up.  The easiest way to do this is to read their reviews and to look them up on the BBB (Better Business Bureau).  Don’t just look at the star ratings.  Are all of their reviews done around a specific date?  Is it possible that the company may be paying their customers for reviews?  A paid review tells you nothing.  This is why you must read the reviews, good and bad.  Did the company respond to the bad reviews?  If so, were they respectful and reasonable?  If there is a bad review, were they motivated by a personal vendetta or because they were convinced by a competitor seeking to profit from an uncertain homeowner?  Remember that not every reviewer has the purest of motives either.
  2. Know your budget.  If you have a spouse, discuss the project with them so you’re both on the same page.  If you’re uncertain of what things cost, check out Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs Value report.  It comes out annually and can be helpful —  especially for bigger projects.  If you know you will need financing, ask your contractor if they offer financing.
  3. Identify what you want in a contractor.  Are you looking for someone who has a commanding understanding about best practices or just someone who has swung a hammer a few times?

If you really love the details, and want to reduce the possibility of anything going wrong, you can take it a few steps further.

  1. Explore best practices for your region.  For instance, let’s say that you need a new roof.  Maybe your roof has a valley or several valleys in it.  Does a company skip over putting metal in the valleys in a high precipitation climate?   You’ll want to know about the best way to do things even before the point that you’re sitting across the table from a skilled professional.  There are going to be many differences you may not know about until a pro explains it.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  2. If possible, look up the person coming to your home.  Not all states have easy to access open records, but you don’t want to find out after the job is done that the charming person who came to your house did something unsavory to another human being.
  3. Be cautious of extraordinary warranty claims.  Recently I received a postcard in the mail for a company that, beyond the manufacturers warranty, offered a 10 year workmanship warranty.  A a professional I know that if there’s going to be a workmanship problem it’s usually going to rear its head after the first rain, and definitely after a season.  Every company should offer at least a year or two workmanship warranty, but I decided to explore the company on the postcard a little deeper.  It turned out that they had just been licensed for a few months.  With the average home improvement company staying in business 1-4 years, it was clear the company didn’t have the experience to back up their claims.  Their good intentions for the work doesn’t mean they know how to run a business that can defy the average company lifespan.
  4. Identify marketing hype vs solid skills.  Every company has to market themselves or no one will know about them.  But are you being seduced by unrealistic promises and inflated prices with fake discounts?  There is no such thing as free installation or free financing.  A company that inflates their prices to build in multiple discount programs is just marketing.
  5. Approach discounts cautiously.   Could it be true that a professional, who presumably has a family and a mortgage just like most of us, could afford to give someone a discount just because of their age or their affiliation with another group or organization?  Will their mortgage lender give them a discount?  Most of the discounts out there are not real discounts.

We hope this has been helpful.  Whatever state or country you are in has different needs.  Look for a company that is familiar with your needs.  A good transaction will result from a healthy exchange of questions and ideas between you and your contractor.

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