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Choosing a Licensed Contractor - A Good One Makes ALL the Difference

Updated on June 1, 2014
Poor Contractor Work - Note the contractor included a section of black pipe in the replacement supply line! That is what initially caused the disaster!!!
Poor Contractor Work - Note the contractor included a section of black pipe in the replacement supply line! That is what initially caused the disaster!!!

How NOT to choose a contractor

Have you ever thought to yourself, "I'd like to have that leak fixed, but a plumber is so expensive"? Or "It's pretty dangerous to have that many plugs in one socket, but an electrician is so expensive"? Many of us base our decisions on what something costs instead of what it is worth . When I purchased a home, I knew it had many projects that would eventually need to be done. I was on a budget so I had to make some decisions about what was most important and what could wait.

Before I had a chance to really assess my situation I found myself in the middle of a disaster of seeming monumental proportions. A water pipe broke in my home and caused extensive damage. I had not had time to research and ask around about available contractors. I was in denial about how extensive the damage was. After doing a temporary fix on the immediate problem, I started asking around if anyone knew a good plumber. If I had lived in a metropolitan area, I might have had better luck. But I live in an already underserved rural area and the building boom was still going on. I called a couple of local plumbers only to be told they were working on large projects out of the area.

After a week or two, I was at the point of desperation. My insurance company had hired a crew and they gutted the bathroom and part of the kitchen. It was dawning on me that I needed more than a plumber. A friend of a friend had a "handyman" business. He was available when I called, and came out to give me a bid. I liked that I sort of knew him (through someone else), and that he was open to my helping with the work to save money. Within a week he provided a quote, and it seemed reasonable. So I gave him a check and the crew got to work.

What I didn't do was what led to the downfall of this project.

  • I didn't call any previous references or do any research on the quality of this individual's jobs.
  • I didn't even look at his license status on the state licensing board.
  • I didn't get more than one quote.
  • I didn't get details on the quote I received. It simply outlined the work to be done.
  • I didn't get details on who was to pay for which supplies and fixtures.
  • I didn't get details on the timeline. I fully expected repairs to be complete in two or three weeks.
  • I didn't keep a close eye on the work that was being done.
  • I didn't learn as much as I needed to know to check if the work was properly done. Plumbing is actually very easy to do right!

After a month drug on with little progress I took a good look at the small amount of work that had been done. Even as a non-contractor I could tell the quality of the work was shoddy. I had to fire this contractor. He then started nitpicking about how much I owed him for the work done and the materials purchased. When he sued me in small claims court I used a lot of energy and time to gather information and defeat his frivolous claim that I had not paid for work done. I had receipts for all of the materials. He harassed me for full payment even though the work done was substandard and had to be torn out and redone.

I started hearing stories around town about other customers who had horror stories. Finally I looked at his license status and was appalled to find multiple complaints against him. He seemed like such a nice man. I found out the hard way that you need to put aside the stress of living with disaster. Use your head to choose a good quality contractor that others can personally recommend. If you don't you may end up living in the disaster far longer than you wish.


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