It seems easy enough to find a contractor, right? You make a few phone calls, schedule an estimate of your project, discuss wants and needs and compare contracts and prices. Of course, in reality, the task of choosing a contractor can place you in a position of information overload, and deciding who is best qualified for the job is not as straightforward as you might like it to be.
It's confusing – one contractor is charming and appears ready to accommodate you in every way, another is a little rough around the edges but came to you by way of an excellent reference. Every contractor you speak with may discuss your project differently and offer varying advice. How do you discriminate between the good and the bad?
Nikki Golden of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, an organization focused on the advancement and promotion of professionalism within the remodeling industry, states, “The key is diligence and taking time to do basic checks for insurance, licensing and especially, following through with checking references from past clients.”
Warning Sign #1: The Contractor Asks You to Pull a Permit
“Certain things should never happen,” she adds. “For example, a contractor should never ask a consumer to pull a permit or say a permit is not necessary.” If you’re unsure a permit is needed, call the Building Inspector in your city or town before you start shopping around for a contractor, then you’ll know who to dismiss when you receive wrong advice. Attorney Kevin M. Veler, a construction attorney and the legal counsel for the Atlanta Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, said on Hometalk.com, "If the contractor asks the homeowner to pull the permit that may be a red flag that the contractor does not have the required license to do the work."
Warning Sign #2: The Contractor Shows Up Late and Doesn't Return Phone Calls
Learning to recognize the warning signs or patterns of risky business behavior can help you discriminate between a creative con artist and a competent, ethical professional. One of the top complaints in the construction industry is contractors leaving the jobsite without finishing the job. This is true for both small and large projects. Substandard contractors have tendencies to show up at the jobsite irregularly, often arrive late and leave early and complete work in a staccato fashion. Contractors who fall short in one area often fall short in other areas. Warning signs are not returning phone calls in a timely manner, showing up late either for initial estimates or subsequent meetings to discuss project details.
Warning Sign #3: The Contractor Fails to Submit a Comprehensive Contract
Another red flag is failure to submit a comprehensive contract outlining the scope of services in detail, including what will or won’t be included in the contract price. Any time an assessment of your project is unclear or vague, you can assume the workmanship will reflect the same mediocrity. Having a contractor with a golden tongue isn’t going to help you get what you paid for! Instead, find someone who can produce a quality product and is willing to sign a black-and-white contract with a workmanship guarantee to prove they’re committed to your project. It’s a business deal, not a friendship! Take the time to read contracts fully, item by item, to avoid miscommunication about expectations. This will also save you from additional fees you may have falsely believed were part of the original pricing package.
Warning Sign #4: The Contractor Gives You His Family Members as References
Checking references thoroughly is some of the best homework you can do. Ask your contractor for a list of references and a portfolio of completed work. Visit finished jobs of his, and be sure to look at work that is more than a year old to ensure that his work stands up well over time.
Make it a point to invest some time into finding out how you can protect yourself by referring to national, state and local associations that can help you with the process of finding a good contractor or builder. Kelly Mack, Communications Manager for the National Association of Home Builders recommends accessing online “resources that contain consumer tips on how to find a professional.” NAHB provides checklists on their website to guide you through the process of finding a reputable professional as well as additional tips for recognizing the warning signs of substandard work.
Above all, keep the lines of communication open with any contractor you’re asking to evaluate your project. Don’t be afraid to tell them you’ll be checking up on references or that you’ll be comparing pricing and scope of services. If a contractor has objections to questions, hems and haws when pressed for direct answers or isn’t willing to negotiate on pricing or services with competitive bidders, you can be pretty sure he isn’t going to be someone you’ll want to work with. Good contractors want to give you a good job for a fair price and will appreciate exchanging information with you – a happy customer is a paying customer and a guarantee of future business.