Q&A / 

Find a Pro by Asking the Right Questions

DEAR TIM: I have always felt uneasy about hiring a contractor. I am never totally convinced I selected the right person. I am sure there are professional builders and sub-contractors out there, but how do you find them each and every time? Is there an easy way to find an honest and reliable contractor? Sally M., Kansas City, MO

DEAR SALLY: I can see why you would feel uneasy about hiring a contractor. After all, most contractors are aliens to you until you meet them the first time. My guess is that you don't typically invite total strangers into your home when the doorbell rings. To a degree, this is exactly what happens when you talk with a contractor for the first time.

Here are just a few of the monthly trade magazines I read. Professionals read these as well.

Your anxiety is deeply rooted and well founded. Think of it. You entrust a contractor to tear apart, rebuild, alter, repair, etc. your most valuable possession - your home! What's more, you might often leave this person or their sub-contractors alone in your home while you go to work, run errands or pick up your kids from school. For you to do this and not worry, you need to build trust in a person. You can't build trust by reviewing a quote or a bid.

Your observation regarding the existence of professionals is absolutely true. Just about every city or town has true craftspeople who use the best materials, take no shortcuts, and are dedicated to their profession. These individuals often have 15 - 20 years experience in their field. They are highly productive, want to maintain their integrity, and they invest in their business.

How would you like me to build your new home? It's probably impossible for me to fit your job into my schedule, but I will gladly share hundreds of my tricks and building secrets with you and your builder. Check out my New House Specifications.

Professionals can invest in their business in many ways. Just about every trade has a professional association. Active membership in one of these groups tells you that the contractor is willing to take the time to learn more about the industry. Continuing education is available in many forms. There are numerous conventions each year that offer hundreds of classes that help contractors and sub-contractors keep up with industry, business and regulatory changes. There is an abundance of fantastic trade publications such as Fine Homebuilding, Remodeling, Builder, Professional Builder, Journal of Light Construction, etc. to name just a few! If your contractor can prove to you that he/she reads some of these on a monthly basis, you may have found a winner.

Often people will tell you to ask for references or call the Better Business Bureau. These are excellent places to start, but they won't tell you the whole story. One excellent way to find a pro is to visit an old fashioned lumber yard or wholesale supply house where a sub-contractor buys his materials. Ask for the general manager or the owner. Request names of individuals who do the following: buy high quality materials, have been in business 15 years or more, and pay their bills on time. Ask the general manager for the 3 people HE would ask for quotes on jobs for his own home.

If you really want to find the professional, you will need to do some extra work. The best source of information about a person is the person himself. Anybody who works in the human resources department of a company will tell you this. You need to sit down and ask the contractor numerous questions about his business, ambitions, his management habits and other important topics. This process should be nearly identical to when you were interviewed for your last job or your most recent promotion. A professional will readily submit to this opportunity and readily answer any question you ask. If a contractor objects to a short interview at your dining room table or squirms during the process, then politely show him to the door and ask to see the next applicant!

Related Articles: Asking Your Contractor Questions, Building & Remodeling Trade Magazines

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