Picture this: A few weeks ago, you called six different contractors to see a minor repair on your home. Everyone went to voicemail. Okay, understandable. You think they are busy and leave a message. A total of four call back and you make an appointment with each of them for a quote. Of the four appointments, two did not show up. Wondering how to find a contractor (who doesn’t suck)? You are not alone.
Of the other two, one contractor said he didn’t know how to do the work. The other said he would call back in 24 hours with an estimate. Another local contractor only does whole house renovations. A week passed – and now his phone is disconnected. Now you are stuck without the help you need and the repair has yet to be done. To anyone who has ever tried to hire a contractor or handyman for their home or business, this scenario probably sounds all too familiar.
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Why is it so hard to find good contractors?
For starters, contractors are generally not good entrepreneurs. Just because someone can bake doesn’t mean they can run a bakery. The same can be said about contractors. Just because someone can swing a hammer doesn’t mean they can answer phone calls or be on time.
Second, contractors don’t always have to be good. Often they just need to be fast or cheap to meet certain needs. Real estate investors and homeowners these days are always looking for a good deal. This means that they usually don’t call the best people for the job because they know they will be too expensive and too big for minor maintenance jobs and will be fully booked for three months.
But this doesn’t mean you have to settle for a contractor that doesn’t meet your needs. After some time and research, you can figure out how to find a contractor who can get the job done right.
Despite what you just read, there are great contractors out there. But it may take some time to find them and the one that suits you best. Here are the top tips for finding good contractors and narrowing down the list.
1. Be proactive, not reactive
Have you ever heard the old expression, “The best time to look for a job is when you don’t need one”? The same principle applies to contractors. If you’re only looking for it when you need one, then you’re in trouble from the start. Instead, be proactive. Have a constantly evolving list of people you could call for various problems and keep adding people to the list even if you don’t need anyone right now.
2. Understand Price vs. Cost
These two terms may sound the same, but there is an important difference when it comes to hiring someone or making investments in your business.
“Price” is the amount of money paid when you buy something, but “cost” is the long-term amount of money paid over the life of a product or service. For example, the price of dishwasher A might be $400 and the price of dishwasher B might be $500. The first option has a lower price, but if it requires an extra $20 a month in utility bills that the second option doesn’t, it won’t really save you anything in the long run.
You see, buy for cost rather than price is a subtle difference, but it can have a huge effect on your business. This principle also applies to hiring a contractor.
3. Ask for referrals
One of the best ways to find good contractors is to ask others who they have used for similar work. It is a simple yet effective method that can help you as well. But get referrals from a number of different people you trust. If people know that a contractor has done a great job in the past, chances are they will in the future.
4. Google them
References are great, but doing your own research is also key to choosing a contractor. It’s like a referral… but from crowds of people on the internet. Here you can also check if they have been part of any shady activity or if there are active disputes. Check out their profile on the Better Business Bureau and see if they are in good standing. If they are private, that can be a bad sign.
Entering their name, the name of their company, your city, and terms such as “scam”, “scam”, “complaints” or “court” into a search can often detect red flags about the person. For example, to learn more about First Rate Construction Company in Metropolis, search for things like:
- First-class construction metropolis
- Top-notch construction scam
- First Class Construction Prosecutor
5. Check References
Always check references. Despite what you may think, even contractor references are generally fair. Also ask for examples of the type of work you plan to have done.
It’s a good idea to ask for multiple references and the most recent jobs they’ve completed. Call the reference and ask if the contractor showed up on time, if they completed the work, if they tried to change the dollar amount halfway through the work or after it was done, and if they would use it again.
Even ask professionals you like who have worked on your home before. Good subcontractors usually work together with other good subcontractors. Ask your electrician if they know any good plumbers. Ask the plumbers if they know any good carpenters and so on.
You can also check out review sites like Angie’s List (now Angi) or Yelp for reviews.
6. Ask questions
References and recommendations are great, but they are not specified to you. Asking the right questions tailored to your needs is a great way to find the right contractor for you. This pre-screening process will help you weed out the ones you don’t like early on. Here are some examples you can use:
- How long have you been in this profession?
- In which skill would you say you are the best? Do you prefer larger renovations or small repairs?
- What tasks do you dislike doing?
- In which cities do you usually work?
- How many employees work for you? (Or work in your company if you don’t talk to the boss.)
- How busy are you?
- Do you pull permits, or do I have to?
- If I hired you, when could you start taking out tasks?
- Which payment schedule do you prefer? When do you want the final payment?
Then set a time to meet and show them the project if you have one. Make an appointment so you can see if they are on time, look professional, and see how they behave in general. Do they seem knowledgeable and capable of the job? If everything feels right after this first meeting, you can make an informed decision about whether or not to hire them.
7. The Home Depot Trick at 6 A.M.
Go to Home Depot at 6am and meet the contractors there. These are the contractors who get up early and get their supplies before on the way to the job site. This is a strong indication that they know what they are doing and will not take advantage of you. While this isn’t a panacea, it can give you an idea of contractors who take their jobs seriously and get to work early in the day.
This is also a good time for you to ask the store associates who they would recommend. They have a unique understanding of the quality of the materials the contractors use, as well as the level of experience and management style of those who buy from them.
8. Let contractors compete
Sometimes the best answer is not finding one contractor, but several that can compete for your business. Making them compete will increase competitiveness which will increase price and quality. If you let them know that you have other professionals on hand, they are sure to give you their best prices, quality and attention.
Some investors or homeowners call three to five contractors to bid and tell them all at once, both to minimize the hassle of meeting multiple contractors and to encourage lean bids. Keep their names and contact details in a place you remember, so you can always have them on hand when you need them.
9. Check Potential Contractors
Check that they are really licensed to do the work you intend to do for them. If they are an electrician, make sure they have an electrical license. If they are a plumber, make sure they have a plumbing license. If they are a general contractor, make sure they have a general contractor license.
Then make sure they actually have the correct insurance and deposit. Just ask for the name of their insurance agent and verify it with that agent. Good contractors should be able to provide you with proof of this.
Why you will never find a good contractor
If you’re still struggling to find a contractor, it’s understandable. Finding the right one for you can be a tedious process. But sometimes it’s important to think about yourself, what you’re looking for in subcontractors and whether you’re going through the process in the best way for yourself. Here are four reasons why you’re making it so much harder on yourself.
1. Your expectations are too high
You expect your contractors to be perfect at everything, to tick every box you are looking for and that is simply not possible. But that’s why it’s also important to have more than one on your list so you always have someone for all your needs.
2. You always take the lowest bid
The conventional wisdom is to get a minimum of three bids and then take the lowest. Some people say the more bids the better. The problem is that contracting is a service, so you get what you pay for. Sometimes saving money also means a loss of quality. That is why it is so important to know the difference between price and cost.
3. You don’t understand overhead quotes
Most good contractors will never give itemized quotes, mainly because the vast majority of people don’t understand the basics of the business, such as overhead costs. There is also a huge falsehood that says a “fair” markup for contractors is 15%-20%. That is not true.
Every contractor inevitably undercuts one part of a project and outbids another. There are simply too many unknowns and variables to consider when bidding. As a result, the entire project is undercut and the contractor is guaranteed to lose money.
4. Your goals don’t match
Most contractors want to provide quality work that they can be proud of, along with fair wages to support themselves, their families and their employees. Quality and good wages are both subjective, so it’s easy for your interests to align. But that’s why it’s so important to go through the process of finding the right contractors for your needs so that everyone is on the same page.