Finding a Quality Contractor

How to Find a Good Contractor for Home Improvement Repairs

Older Homes

   We all know that the winter months in the Northeastern States can be witness to some devastating weather. Outbreaks of severe weather systems can wreak havoc in Pennsylvania, as well as New Jersey, New York, as far south as Virginia, and as far north as Maine, changing the lives of millions. Looking back on past experiences, I know that it is always a long and complex process to put the pieces back together and most of my clients admit that they didn’t even know where to start.

I always begin to hear horror stories about home repair scams. Customers who had their roofs replaced by an out-of-state contractor find themselves standing in puddles of water pooling on their living room floors thanks to poor roofing. Others try to figure out how to pay for repairs after their contractors requested cash up front, only to never return.

After all is said and done, it can be difficult to find a reputable company to perform the work at a fair price, with the repairs completed on time, within the budget, and with a warranty.

Regardless of whether you are looking for a contractor to address storm damage or you just need a little help remodeling your bathroom, there are several tips you can follow to find a reputable company.

Tips to Select Contractors to work with:

  1. Stay Local

Choosing a local contractor means that the company has developed a reputation in your hometown that you can verify. It also means that they have a state or local business license, a local telephone number, and most importantly, it means someone will be nearby if there is an issue with the work performed.

  1. Trust is Key

Ok, so this one might be difficult. You haven’t even met this person yet, how can you trust him, or her?

Well, in this instance trust is going to be a verb. You need to be somewhat vulnerable. Ask a lot of questions. Play dumb if you already know the answer. You need to open a dialogue and see what comes back. You need to Trust the process and dont be shy. A good contractor should be easy to speak to, you should feel comfortable speaking freely and should never feel any pressure. They should be quick to develop rapport and should be happy to answer any question, even if it seems dumb.  A good contractor won’t be afraid to ask you the hard questions and shouldn’t be afraid to give you bad news.

Getting honest feedback about your ideas and feeling no pressure is a good sign. If you are getting the feeling that you’re asking too many questions or that they don’t have the time, it may be a sign to move on. You don’t want to embark into a repair project with someone who doesn’t have time for your questions.

  1. Verify Credentials

Many choose to check with the Better Business Bureau when determining which contractor to use, but that’s not always best. Requesting a list of references, and being sure to contact them is the safest way to go. Any reputable contractor will be happy to provide a list of references and knows that the best way to build trust is to let their past customers do the talking for them for them.

Furthermore, your family, friends, and neighbors may have used someone in the past. Asking around can help to determine whether there were any issues. If they did have issues, find out how they were resolved.

Additionally, you can always check for reviews online. Although many like to utilize customer review sites like Angie’s List – it will cost you a few dollars to gain access to these reviews. Following a General Contractor’s Facebook, Houzz or Instagram page will help to show you up to date daily activity and what people are saying. You can also search Google to see if the Home Improvement Company has been in the news

  1. Check the Contractor’s License and Insurance

After you create a shortlist of contractors, narrow down your list by confirming their state license. Most states list all registrants on a website which list contractors by name and license numbers and verifies certificates of insurance. All contractors, regardless of the state in which they operate, are required to have a business license and insurance coverage. You may also want to inquire if the Contractor is registered in your local municipality, which may be a seperate registration from the state. Viewing a certificate of insurance will ensure that the contractors coverage is up to date and you are covered in the event anything goes wrong.

  1. Get It in Writing

Be sure to request a written quote and be sure to understand how you will be expected to pay. There are several ways for Home Improvement companies to calculate billing and you should always know exactly what you’re getting before any work commences.  “Labor and Materials” also known as “Cost Plus” or “T&M” is a popular practice however it is a practice that many states are warning consumers to steer away from. T&M is an open ended contract that has left many home improvement consumers in a bind. When a General Contractor lets the project cost run out of control an underfunded homeowner may face subcontractor and supplier liens, improvements not inspected and in the worst case, incomplete projects.  

We always recommend getting a project quote for 100% of the work. At that point you should choose either an “Open Book” contract or a contract that encompases 100% of the cost. Larger projects are better for an Open Book contract whereas smaller projects are a good pairing for 100% contract. These two types of contracts give costing control to both parties in different ways and each have their own benefits. For more details on different costing methods read this article.  

Although obtaining multiple quotes can help you save money when hiring a contractor, consumers should be aware that every business has a different cost of operations as well as different methods of achieving results. These differences can create quotes that may look very different. Also, the details that you supply about the project will affect the quote. If you forget to mention details to one contractor or overstate the complexity of another thing this can result in quotes that aren’t “apples to apples”. Always have the details in writing.

Aslo, note that there are different levels of fit and finish. Some home improvement contractors may be inclined to supply a “builders grade” finish, whereas others may be set up for a finer finish. It’s important to know the differences up front.

You’ll also want to inquire about the warranties. Every Builder will have a different policy and it may affect the cost. Make sure that you understand the details before signing on.

  1. Don’t Pay for Labor Up Front

Though you may have read that you shouldn’t pay for labor up front. There are few if any professional Builders or Contractors that are willingly going to leverage their assets to purchase materials and perform work for you if you aren’t willing to have some “skin in the game”. When you choose a Builder or General Contractor it’s most important to choose someone you trust. If trust is an issue from the start, then expect problems at the finish.

States such as Pennsylvania legally allow for Contractors to collect funds as a percentage of the contract total up front. In addition to a percentage, Contractors are also allowed to collect funds for special order items. Additional payments are then typically made as milestones are met.

Having these funds to work from allows a company to keep its wheels greased and will keep your project moving forward in a smooth and timely fashion.

  1. Ask for a List of Sub-Contractors

It’s common for General Contractors to use Sub-Contractors. It is the best practice and ensures that you are receiving a specialist in each field to complete the different task involved in completing the project.

A quality General Contractor may know how to perform each task associated with the project and may even be licensed to do so however, with a large task list as well as project management and administrative task it would be hard for any one company to complete a project without ever going “Out of House”. This is where Sub-Contractors come into play.

Sub-Contractors shall be required to hold up to all of the rules and regulatory conditions that the General Contractor is held to and their work is conducted by the General Contractor. Although you should be aware of the work that the subcontractor is providing, if you have any issues, it is typically best to review them with your General Contractor and follow the proper chain of command. This will result in less confusion and or work stoppages.

If you know that your Builder will be using subcontractors, it is your right to know who those “subs” will be ahead of time. Its best to keep a record of them for future knowledge such as warranty issues or for future maintenance.

The Take-away…

Contractors are a valuable resource for anyone looking to repair, renovate, make improvements or add value to their homes. They should be professional and provide quality results. They are people in your community that you trust and have a relationship with. If you are looking to avoid frustration and are not keen on the “Do-It-Yourself” movement, a General Contractor might be a good fit for you. No matter what size your project is.

Following the tips above, I hope that you are better able to navigate the colossal task of choosing a contractor. If you need assistance or have any questions, we are always eager to help. Please email or call with your questions at any time.