Let's say that you have repairs to do around your house and you don't have the time or skill to DIY. How do you know who to hire? There is no shortage of self-proclaimed "handymen" around these days! All painters and drywall hangers call themselves handyman now. How do you find a competent and professional one? Well, the best way is by word of mouth from your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Nothing beats a good referral - it's what all of those contractor sites are trying to emulate. It's also why we have been able to stay busy for the last 20 years! The promise of a good referral is a powerful incentive to do quality work. A satisfied customer might tell 5 friends about you, but an unhappy one will tell 100! But be aware that your friend's definition of a job well done may be quite different than yours. If you can actually see the results of a recent remodel or repair, so much the better.
You can also search with one of the many referral sites such as Angie's List, Home Advisor, Thumbtack, etc. These sites have come to dominate the home repair industry as of late (surely you've seen the commercials). Keep in mind that these sites are business ventures on a national scale. They have little interest in providing you with the best contractors or even the results of his/her work. They simply want to collect as much money as they can through advertising revenues - selling job "leads" to contractors at VERY high prices. Trust me, the companies that you find first on any "list" pay handsomely to be placed on the first page! And you have to take the good reviews with a grain of salt. It's common practice for these sites to erase bad reviews for addition money. Do some additional research if you decide to hire anyone from these sites and don't assume that the site will fix any mistakes they might make.
When you zero in on a contractor and try to call them, don't be too surprised if your call isn't answered immediately. A good contractor will probably be busy working on a job and might not be able to hear or answer his phone. Don't hesitate to leave a message. They should call back by the end of the day. If they fail to do so, don't be afraid to try calling again the next day. Believe me, it's sometimes difficult to keep track of over 20 calls a day (without a secretary) while on the job! And you should try to refrain from making demands during the initial contact phase. Few contractors will be able to drop what they are doing in order to "come over right now and look at my repairs". If you need a job done ASAP, you should be willing to pay extra for it!
Want some insider info on the process of taking calls from potential customers? Well, to start with, we hate "free" estimates. Nothing in this world is truly free, is it? A good contractor will be able to give you a ballpark idea of how much a repair will cost you (for small jobs) over the phone. We don't need to "come by and look at it" every time. I've spent a lifetime looking at cracks, holes, and water spots on ceilings. I know what they look like and how to fix them. In many cases the free estimate is really an "audition" process or a search for the lowest possible bid. When you factor in that the chances of actually winning a job is somewhere around 30 percent it becomes clear that it's not always worth it to bid on small jobs ($500 or less). Keep in mind that contractors have to make a profit. Most will add the cost of the estimate into your final price as the cost of doing business. And the whole "I need to get five different estimates for my insurance claim" simply means that four guys will be wasting their time and gas!
To conclude, here are some things to look for when dealing with potential contractors :
Be sure to ask for a detailed written estimate of the work to be performed, especially with projects involving $500 or more. An oral agreement offers you little protection if things go sour. It's a big red flag if any contractor hesitates to do so.
Never agree to pay for anything other than materials upfront (especially with cash!). I can't count the stories I've heard where a handyman is given a sum to begin a project only to disappear the next day. Make sure any payment schedule is spelled out in a contract. If a contractor can't buy the needed materials and bill you for them, it's a red flag. And if he doesn't have the correct tools to do the job (ladders, saws, or even a hammer), you should look elsewhere for a more professional contractor.
Remember that you get what you pay for. If the price a contractor quotes you seems too good to be true, it probably is. Many contractors will quote extremely low prices and then try to renegotiate halfway through a job. You can expect delays,discussions, and even heated arguments over additional money with these guys. A contractor who works on an an hourly rate can save you from this headache. I'm a big proponent of the hourly rate, as it saves me time and my customers from inflated estimates!
Take notice of the contractor's appearance. Does he show up in a dirty tank-top and flip-flops? Does he smell like he just visited a brewery? Does he seem to put you at ease, or does he seem a little "off"? If he asks a lot of personal questions right off the bat, beware! A good contractor is one whom you feel safe having inside your home! Notice if he is driving an appropriate work truck or van (as opposed to a junk-yard relic that will leak oil all over your driveway). We contractors spend a lot of time in our vehicles. A guy in an old jalopy isn't investing back into his company or is just trying to make extra money on the side!