The times they are a-changing, and with them, our approach to owning a house. Today’s homeowners (or renters, in many cases) tend to be savvy sorts, who invest a lot of research in taking care of their abode. Beyond basic repairs, they do a fair bit of home improvement on their own, inspired by popular television shows or Web bloggers. When they need repair or remodeling that’s beyond their own DIY skills, these folks are ready to hire a contractor, but they can be quite demanding. We at Networx have talked to hundreds of homeowners to find out their criteria in choosing the best man (or woman) for the job -- and their advice to others. The results may surprise you.
Online Reviews. To find local contractors quickly, most people we spoke with turn to the internet. However, a Google search along the lines of “carpenters / HVAC technicians / roofers in my area” is likely to turn up pages and pages of results. How do you pick out which of these to call? Among the homeowners we heard from, reading online reviews is a very popular method of narrowing the field. A couple of caveats: Look for reviews from an unbiased source like the Better Business Bureau, and pay close attention to the contractor’s response to negative complaints.
Additional References. Our respondents also suggested doing an additional piece of homework; talk to local homeowners who’ve used the services of the plumber, carpenter, or tiler you have in mind. Ask about not only the quality of his or her work, but also factors like whether the crew showed up on time and completed the job according to schedule. Look at examples of finished work and find out how it’s holding up months or even years later. To find these references, don’t rely only on your contractor, who will probably give you only names of satisfied customers. For a more objective picture, canvass your neighborhood or do some research via online forums.
Availability. All too often, our group needed to find professional help on an emergency basis, as when a gas leak made one family’s furnace unsafe to operate – right in the middle of a winter cold snap. Naturally, they recommend hiring someone who will get the job done ASAP, instead of telling you vaguely, “I might have time to get to you next week.” Even in a less urgent situation, you’re better off with a pro whose availability jibes with your schedule.
Price. As conscious consumers, the people we talked with were concerned about getting a fair price. They recommended requesting estimates from 3 or 4 contractors if feasible, especially for larger jobs. However, “cheapest is not always best,” they advise. Compare apples to apples to find out the true cost of your home improvement – look at the specifications of materials, labor, and service that each bid includes (and when you make your decision, get all that information in the contract you and your contractor sign!).
Professionalism. We found that homeowners tended to dwell on the small details of their initial meeting. Whether or not a contractor shows up on time to give an estimate, brings along color charts or samples, wears a uniform, and drives a truck with company name on its side might seem like trivial points, but they add up to larger picture of someone who is a true professional … or the opposite.
Gut Feeling. You’d be surprised at how many homeowners commented with a slightly self-conscious laugh, “I really relied on my instinct.” When you talk with several contractors, keep track of your inner reaction to each one. While it’s definitely not the only criterion to use when you make your choice, good old gut feeling is important.
Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.