On top of the regular stress that comes with the decision making, finances, and responsibility of taking on a major home repair or renovation — choosing and hiring a contractor can be a nerve-wracking experience. But, it doesn’t have to be! Here’s our comprehensive guide to making sure you go about choosing the best contractor for your project.
Reviews & Referrals
Modern social media has done wonders for empowering the customer! Sites like Facebook, Google, Yelp, and Home Advisor provide star-ratings and written commentary from people who have had experience with contractors in your area. Spend a few minutes to carefully read through these reviews and look for detailed comments that describe experiences that address similar interests to your project. For those less internet-savvy, start with your friends and family. Chances are, someone in your inner circle has had some contracting work done before. If they can’t recommend someone to call, they may at least be able to recommend who NOT to call! The same applies with home inspectors, brokers and realtors - who can all guide you to a contractor that can bring your property up to code before you sell your home (or after you’ve purchased one).
Don’t Be Shy… CALL
In the “Age Of The Internet”, it’s become commonplace to do your shopping, social outreach, communications, and research through social media, google, etc.. However, hiring a contractor is NOT something that should be passively researched. After all, you are trusting someone with one of your most personal possessions: your home. Something as simple as an old fashioned phone call can tell you a lot about a contractor. For starters, will they answer your call? The #1 comment we get here at Mackey General Contractors is, “I’ve called a few places and you’re the first to answer my call”. When a contractor promptly answers or returns your calls (or responds to your emails, messages, or comments on social media) — they’re demonstrating one of the most important facets of hiring a contractor: communication. Communication is important when prospecting contractors, sure, but it becomes imperative after you’ve already hired one! So, if they’re not very responsive now — it can be telling of how they’ll respond when they already have your deposit.
Set A Meeting
After you’ve read some reviews, made some calls, sent some emails and feel comfortable with your research — it’s time to set an appointment for some face time. Most contractors, like us, offer free estimates and are happy to schedule a time (at YOUR convenience) to meet and go over your project’s needs. This preliminary meeting can answer a lot of questions you probably have about the contractor. ‘Do they show up in a timely fashion?’ ‘Are they friendly?’ ‘Knowledgable?’ ‘Do they seem interested in your business?’ If the answer is ‘No’ to any of these questions; it can spell out disaster for your project — days, weeks, even months later. Meeting with the contractor should also ease any reservations you have about your project. Whether you’re in need of a repair or a renovation — you should feel comfortable and confident after meeting with a contractor. If you don’t, you shouldn’t proceed until you are. And, although sometimes the right solutions may be more expensive (or sometimes less expensive) than you thought — you should NEVER feel like you’re being pressured, up-sold (or even down-sold) on your project. A positive meeting should result in you feeling certain that your project was properly assessed and given the attention it deserves by a contractor who can handle the job. Taking on the burden of home repairs and renovations can be a stressful time for the homeowner. If all goes well, you should feel completely at ease after your consultation.
Ask For Examples & Referrals
With todays latest technology at arms reach - there is just simply no excuse for a contractor not to have some high quality photos of their work. A prime example is “before and after” type photos. These show what a project looked like BEFORE the contractor started work — as well as the finished end-result. A common trick that sub-par contractors use is to show really nice finished photos of rooms, kitchens, bathrooms etc.. But, they don’t show ‘before’ photos to highlight what it is that they actually contributed. Be suspicious of contractors that choose only to highlight their ’after’ photos — as you can not tell what work was theirs, and what was not. Also, ask for referrals! A contractor that is willing to supply you with contact information for some of their recent customers is demonstrating pride and transparency in their work. Call up former clients to find out how their project went - and don’t be afraid to ask if their expectations were met.
Get A Written Estimate
Before you agree to anything, the contractor should provide you with a detailed written estimate that thoroughly describes the project details. This includes pricing, estimated times for completion, as well as any special notes or instructions. If the contractors are providing materials, you can ask them to outline the material costs as well. Use this written estimate to compare it to other bids you may have.
Don't Let The Price Dictate Your Decision
Who doesn’t want to shop for the best deal? It would be against your best interest NOT to. However, with contracts — it’s probably in your best interest to heavily scrutinize the lowest bid, if not disregard it completely. This generally implies that the contractor is cutting corners or — worse — desperate for money. Some contractors will even lowball their bids just to secure a contract, only to then ‘nickel & dime’ their way up as the job proceeds (a dishonest, albeit common, practice). It’s not unusual for our customers to start a conversation with “I hired someone to do some work, but it turned out awful and now I need it fixed”. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have your extremely high bids. These come from companies and contractors that are preying on the ignorance of their customers and maliciously exploiting the job. Unfortunately, this too is not uncommon. Then, theres the age-old ‘Local’ vs. ‘Large Name Brand’ debate. ‘Large’ name-brand companies may seem like a safe bet at first glance, but they tend to cost a lot more because their overhead and operating costs are so high… some of them even sell their leads on the jobs and hire local contractors anyway (leaving you stuck paying more for the same service because now ‘Large Name Brand’ wants their cut). Some even lure their customers in with things like special financing — which should make you wonder, are they interested in selling you their service or their loan? These loans are usually accompanied by horrible interest rates, or predatory fees - which brings us back to the importance of all the above. You should never enter into a contract until you feel comfortable AND confident that you have the right contractor for the job.
Licensed, Bonded & Insured
Make sure the contractor you’re prospecting is licensed, bonded and insured! Aside from the obvious concerns involved with hiring someone who isn’t licensed and insured, it’s an industry standard for contractors to have certification of all these requisites. In a worst case scenario — you could be scammed, left footing the bill for an incomplete job, or in the event that the proper permits were not pulled by a bonded contractor; the work that has been done may be ordered taken down (or removed) by your local ordinance, usually accompanied by a slew of expensive fees. Don’t be ‘penny wise and dollar foolish’. Saving a little now by cutting corners could end up costing you much, MUCH more in the end.
It’s best to consult with a reputable contractor immediately upon filing your insurance claim. It is extremely important to have them present when the insurance adjuster comes to asses your claim (and/or damages). This is so the contractor can give you their estimate on the costs for reparations — and to advocate on your behalf to make sure you’re reimbursed fairly. Though it may come as a surprise to many, insurance companies do not have the homeowners’ best interest in mind. Many of them are trained on how to play down damages specializing in saying ‘we don’t cover that’ in an infinite amount of ways. In some cases, they even insist on paying for cheaper materials than the ones that were damaged in the claim — all while touting to the homeowner that they’re “going to take really good care of you”. Like all other businesses, at the end of the day — they operate on a profit margin. Have a contractor present — so their profit isn’t at the expense of your home.