I always have been intrigued by how homeowners go through the process of selecting a contractor. Oftentimes, the decision comes down to price – the mighty dollar. Some people immediately gravitate toward the lowest bid, others won’t consider the highest or lowest, but assume that the one in the middle is the best compromise. But if you are looking at multiple bids, and several are not from qualified contractors, how can you possibly compare? You can’t! A lot of people say it’s like comparing apples to oranges, but as Gary Palmer says, it’s more like comparing apples to elephants.
As a consumer and a veteran of many jobsites, I feel that the key to finding a good contractor is not gauging their price, but gauging their professionalism. You can begin to judge this on subjective factors right away. How they treat you initially – how quickly they return phone calls, whether they take a genuine interest in your project, if they listen to your goals and offer creative suggestions – should give you a feel for who is a true professional. Here are a few other areas to ask about from my perspective in the field:
How many projects like yours has he or she done? Good contractors will have a wide variety of successful projects they have completed on time. Visit their website for Project Stories and a Photo Gallery which will give you an indication of the types and complexity of projects they have completed.
What do past clients think of them? Good contractors will have favorable client testimonials and will not hesitate to share them or provide contact information. (Also, be sure to check their website to see if there are personal referrals from satisfied clients.)
Do you see patterns in their client care? Ask contractors for several client names from each of the past 3 to 4 years, then call them and see what their patterns are. Diligently doing this will help you spot any recent changes that you otherwise might not have known about.
Do they have a job in progress right now? If so, check it out. Talk to the current client. What do they think about their experience? A bid process can take several weeks, so if you find one or two contactors you like, go back and follow up to see if their client’s comfort level has changed as they have gotten farther along in the project. If they don’t have current clients, go back to their most recent ones.
Check consistency of work. If the contractor has had a long break between jobs or within a recent job, there is most likely a reason. This will sometimes explain price variances in a bid and is a major warning sign. If a contractor is going through a tough time, they may be tempted to pull your investment into their problems; meaning they need cash flow now to make up for their last mistake. This is definitely a red flag – if something doesn’t check out, then check that contractor off your list.
If after reviewing all these areas, you are still uncertain, then your decision comes down to which contractor you feel comfortable having around your most substantial investment. That is where the employees, subcontractors and trade partners a contractor selects and the quality they maintain come into play, which are some areas we’ll discuss in my next article.