Q&A / 

How to Hire a Great Contractor

Quick Column Summary:

  • Finding a good contractor takes work
  • Always read manufacturer installation instructions
  • Research the best materials before you hire installer
  • Ask supply house managers for recommendations

DEAR TIM: I’m not able to do some of the jobs around my house and need to hire a few contractors. I’m terrified of getting taken to the cleaners. Is there a magical way to find a fantastic contractor? What about the online rating websites? Is it a good idea to just go off the recommendations of friends, neighbors and online testimonials about contractors? What would you do if you were me? Sharon B., Newcastle, OK

DEAR SHARON: I don’t think you’re going to like my answers. In fact, I’m pretty much willing to bet money you’ll be groaning in a few moments. Finding a good contractor is work. Most people don’t like to work. They want that big fat red easy button. This electronic age we live in has fostered an environment of instant gratification - most people want everything now with minimal effort.

You want a great contractor no matter if you’re building a large new home or just remodeling a bathroom. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

You want a great contractor no matter if you’re building a large new home or just remodeling a bathroom. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

Let’s do an autopsy on your terror. If you understand the dynamic of what’s going on, then you’ll understand why it’s worth the effort to invest the time needed to find a contractor. My guess is you’re basing your hiring decision based on hope.

Hope is the emotion of last resort. You hope for things when you can’t control the outcome. You can control the outcome of who you hire.

My guess is you’re terrified of the following things:

  • poor workmanship that needs to be redone at some future time
  • wrong materials and shortcuts in workmanship
  • sketchy people in and about your home while you’re not home
  • outright thievery of your hard-earned money

Let’s eliminate each one from the list one at a time. While you’re not a contractor with years of experience, you can get a good feel how something should be installed by simply reading the manufacturer’s installation instructions.

This means you need to do some research before you even talk with a contractor. You need to decide what is the best window, door, faucet, flooring, etc. before you pick up the phone to call a contractor. Once you know what you want, you then read the actual installation instructions and test the contractor when you do talk to him to see if he knows the proper methods that need to be used.

You avoid having criminals or questionable workers at your house by hiring a real pro. If you want to hire a pro contractor, go where the pros get their *food*. Food in this sense are the materials used on jobs. Most pro contractors go to supply houses you’ve never heard of to get their materials: old-fashioned lumberyards, wholesale supply houses, etc.

Visit these businesses mid-morning or mid-afternoon when it’s not so busy. Ask to speak with the general manager. Tell this person that you need the names of the top three contractors that do the type of work you need done. You’re looking for a contractor with at least fifteen years experience, one that only buys the best materials and one that pays his bills on time. Finally, ask the general manager what three contractors he’d get a quote from if he was looking to get work done.

The pro contractors do not hire criminals, drug users or thieves. Professional contractors only buy the best materials because they don’t want to be called back for failures. The best contractors pay their bills on time because they often get discounts for doing so. That puts more profit in the pocket of the pro so he can reinvest in his business for you!

Many people are not aware of the smoke and mirrors that can happen with software programming that runs the online contractor rating websites. This cryptic programming can skew the results that you see at these websites.

For example, these websites might not always list the order of the contractors based on their credentials. Contractors that spend money advertising on these websites can often be listed earlier in the listings, even if they don’t have as great a rating as another contractor.

Add to this the fact that some dishonest contractors might open up numerous user accounts and post false reviews. I feel this is very rare, but it’s pretty easy in this day and age to create numerous false online personas.

You need to be really careful when you decide to rely on the recommendations of friends, neighbors and strangers online. You have no clue if these people can tell a good job from a bad job. How do you know if these people read the product installation instructions or took the time to really vet the contractor?

Remember, some contractors are excellent showmen. They can put on a false front and months later after they’re long gone you discover the workmanship and materials were faulty. Your friends can be fooled just like you can be.

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