Selecting a Contractor — the Do’s and the Don’ts

As a contractor I’m often asked by friends what they should look for in a contractor.  Of course I always joke with them that they should find someone just like me, but since I specialize in certain products, that’s not always possible.

So here’s the scoop.

Spend the time to check out your contractor before you ever let them in your house.  In this, the era of online information, there is no excuse for not doing your due diligence and checking out who is going to be working on your house.

Read the reviews critically but not overly critically.  Understand that sometimes there is a person who has an axe to grind or just doesn’t believe anyone is capable of doing a job that they would give an “A” rating.  Look at what percentage of good reviews a contractor has versus non-flattering reviews.  If the site you are looking at gives the contractor the ability to respond (not all sites do), did they respond professionally or emotionally?

Now you can go overboard with this.  You’re not going to do a full background and credit check on everyone who comes through your door, but remember, a good contractor is in demand.  Their time is as valuable as yours.  A good contractor is in demand during the busy season and they deserve to be treated as you would any guest you invite into your house.  If you find someone that you like and you trust, and the price is within your budget, don’t be afraid to jump in.

Choose a contractor who respects your time as much as you respect their time.  Most of today’s products can be well explained in an hour.  If you contractor does not think that you are important enough to dedicate an hour to, they either don’t understand their products well or they don’t feel you are important enough.

Beware salesmen who have never installed the product they are selling.  Yes, it’s great that they like your dog, your favorite sports team, and apparently you dated their 2nd cousin twice removed in college.  They’ve spent hours of your time telling you their life story and now you’re being offered free movie tickets if you buy their super duper deluxe patio door for twice what you should pay for it.  Save the money — buy your own movie tickets.  Find a smaller contractor who focuses on product, not the schmooze.

Earlier in this article I mentioned the words “due diligence”.  This is a phrase often misused by customers to justify laziness.  And yes, I said customer laziness.  It takes ten minutes to look someone up on the major search engines and to see if they’ve ever had a complaint on the Better Business Bureau or ever had a review, good or bad.  In some states you can even look up a persons court history within 30 seconds.  Doing “due diligence” doesn’t mean getting so many estimates that you will never remember what the earlier contractors explained.  You know where that saying of getting at least 3 estimates came from?  Government bureaucrats and insurance companies.  How do you feel about them?  Do you think they had your best interest in mind?  Or do you think they just wanted you to find a way to do it cheaper, quality be damned?

Many of these self anointed consumer protection gurus are following cookie cutter approaches without regard to customer needs.  Do not completely discount what they have to say because often they can offer some great tips, but be an informed consumer and you will be much happier with your project.  By the way, ask any person who studies memory and how the human brain works and they will tell you that if you talk to three people over a period of a week, you will remember considerably fewer details from the first person than the last person.  Rigidity can cost you choosing a great contractor or a mediocre contractor.

Last year a friend of mine, Leslie, referred a coworker (Jeremy) to me for his roof.  Now I’m a details kind of guy and I’ve built up a great reputation, but he chose a company that was cheaper.  I saw my friend at a party last week.  She told me that Jeremy is constantly complaining about his new roof.  Leslie told me that she told him, “I warned you, you should’ve gone with Jim”.  I’ll admit that her come back put a huge grin on my face.  Leslie was right through, you do get what you pay for.

So my recommendations are this — follow your instincts.  If they’re telling you it’s a bad deal or a bad contractor, it probably is.  Be an informed consumer.  Check your contractors out before they even walk through the door and if, during your online search you discover that they’re not the person you thought they were, cancel your appointment.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve had a customer do a background check unbeknownst to me.  She told me she looked at my background and saw that I tended to have a lead foot (I’ve been known to go a little fast from appointment to appointment), but otherwise I seemed to be a solid guy.  It was amusing that she did that and at the end of the appointment we had agreement and I had another satisfied customer.

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