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Do your Homework when Hiring a Contractor

Updated on May 6, 2013
Get client referrals and see their work before hiring.
Get client referrals and see their work before hiring. | Source

Warm weather brings good and bad contractors out

The weather is warm and you have been planning all winter your next spring project. Let me suggest to you that not all contractors are trained the same. Many have learned on the job. Some are very smart, knowledgeable and honest. But there are those who pose as contractors and look like they can do the job. They are the con artists who take advantage of homeowners. They tell you they can do anything. The con contractor will ask for money up front only to do half the job incorrectly or possible never show up as promised.

Please get a referral and go and see their work. Please do not just take their word. Your best friend's word isn't reliable either. What is pristine work to some is over the top for another. I am asking you to go and examine and touch the work the contractor did. Did he really do the work or did he subcontract it out. It is very common for a contractor to take a job, then sub out the job or part he can't do. In this case if the sub he hires does a poor job, you will have to chase down both contractors.

I have had some bad experiences with contractors and they came by referral. I have worked in the business as a designer and contractors come and go based on the economy. The great one's are always busy and employed. The one's who just hang a sign out claiming they can do the work are the one's you need to be concerned with.

Even if a contractor does a poor job to complete your project, you still have to pay them. The courts will say, he completed the job and it may not be to your satisfaction, but you still owe the contractor pay. Now I know that sounds crazy.

In my experience, where I live the laws do not protect the consumer when it comes to remodeling contractors and contractors in general.

It is recommended that you look online to see if the contractor has a license or any outstanding liens. I would stay clear of any contractor with previous liens from clients and or suppliers.

When You Hire Me

Please plan your project accordingly and have a budget in mind. Do some research on the project you want to work on. Read up on the latest trend. You should have a some basic idea as to what you want for materials.

Question: Can you tell me what a new front porch would be? How much do you think it will cost?

Contractor: I can design any porch you like. I can build any porch you want. Do you have any professional architectural drawings for me? I can't possibly know the exact dimensions based on the scribble you have on a napkin.I am afraid I can't quote anything today.This will require some time sir/man. I have to measure, take my measurements back to the office, put it in a computer we use and draw this based on what you want."Do you know what you want?"

Home Owner: I was hoping you would have suggestions.

Contractor : Well sir/mam I have done many roofs and I have ideas. The suggestions I have are well thought out and require some time. There is a cost to this. We do not design for free. Our drawings will be built into the price if you choose to hire me. If you like the drawings and decide to bid the job out, you will be required to pay for my ideas in design plus computer time.

Question: I want to knock down a wall and expand a room, what will that cost?

Contractor : Sir/mam that will depend on the complexity, the type of wall. Is it a weight bearing wall, is there plumbing and electrical.

Homeowner: Can you do all the exetrical and plumbing too?

Contractor: Yes, All your needs can be met. I do it all. This does not mean I physically do it all. A contractor can not be a master of all things. I will bring in a plumber, electrician, a framer, a drywaller and a painter to complete this job. This adds to the cost of just tearing down a wall. Is this something you are prepared for?

Home owner: Huh, I thought you were a contractor? You do it all. I know my neighbors down the road hired someone that did it all.

Contractor: I am sorry sir/mam,My specialty is woodwork. I can't possiblty be good at everything. It is impossible to be a expert at every trade. I take pride in my work and I do my very best to make clients happy because I depend on referrals for my lively. I do not advertise.I have a book of referrals for you Mr. Homeowner.

Home owner:You know come to think of it, my neighbor did say,the corners of his molding was not mitered or plumb. It also took the contractor a long time to finish the job.He was an electrician.

Contractor: My work comes with a written quote. If you make changes to the written quote, Please understand adding the teeniest of changes to a job can add to the cost and time to finish the job. I do my best to quote, however all materials are not alike in cost. Great quality materials always cost more.I do not like to cut corners to compromise the project.

Homeowner: I need to get my porch done soon. When can i get my quote?

Contractor: Sir/ mam, I am 3 weeks out and I can not give a you a quote until you can give me a better idea of the kind of porch.In the meantime, I will ask you to research some porches, look at porches in your neigfhborhhood and make a list of the things you want. Please also look at what materials cost because you want to be aware. I would call a couple of other contractors just so that you have something to compare to. Call me in a week and let me know what kind of porch you want. Please have some pictures so that we are looking and thinking the same thing. I will bring out some pictures of my work along with reading materials for you about porches. I want to remind you that I need to make a living and so my time with you is extremely valuable.Should you decide to select me as your contractor, I will expect a 30% to srat the job. My design fee is $300.00. The fee is waived if i get to complete the project.If you decide to go with an all-in-one contractor,You are required to pay me for my drawings.I will need to collect the final 30% to complete the job. I will also have you sign off at each stage.Any changes after you sign off will delay your job and will incur cost.

Homeowner: I am concerned about something. Are you bonded and insured?

Contractor:Yes, i am insured and I am a member of HBA, BBB etc.You will find there are many contractors who are not insured and do not belong to any professional organizations.

Master of None

An all-in-one contractor who does everything well is rare. To be able to do it all, you have to have worked in all the trades. When it comes to electricity and plumbing I think and believe a licensed contractor is your best and safest route. Many contractors have trained on the job, but a licensed contractor who is specialized knows what is best for each use. When you cut corners, you may be saving several hundred dollars up front. But if something goes wrong, you may be forced hire a contractor again to correct the problem.So you do not comeout ahead.

Bonded Only Covers Minimal

I can only tell you from my own experience. The bonding of a contractor covers minimal. If it is a $5000.00 bond, you as the customer will not have much to protect yourself. Most jobs are much more than that. If you end up in a law suit, that bond will cover a couple of hours an attorney charges. REALLY! Everyone thinks,"OH, he is bonded. you see it in the local ads. Trust me, it means very little." This is my FYI to you because depending on your state, certain laws really protect the contractor and not the consumer.


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    • alphagirl profile image

      alphagirl 5 years ago from USA

      Sorry to hear about your contractor LetitiaFt. You have to check references and check to see if they are legitamite. I think people are by nature trusting. I also think crooks with no skills know that people are trusting and prey on them. I work in the business and often times referrals do not mean a thing. You have to see the work with your own eyes. Contractors in my opinion are lazy and will take a short cut. They know once the job is complete even if wrong is done. You own them the money even for poor workmanship. Not everyone has a good eye and skill levels vary...always ask to see their work and ask them who physically did the labor. How long and how much. get it in writing, call their references see what their work history is. Good luck.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      The bill for my kitchen ended up twice as much as the estimate. I'm still living with a temporary countertop, 7 years down the line...

    • alphagirl profile image

      alphagirl 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks Win-Winresouces, You are absolutely right. It is the bad contractors, the one's who lack professional integrity, that go into this type of work who do not perhaps have the skills to do the job, take on the job, screw it up and who do not have have enough insurance to cover. Home owners should get the job in writing. Details, materials, time and labor.I know in the state I live contractors are protected and so almost anyone can hang a sign up on their truck to say they are roofers. there should be more rules and regulations because so many people get burned. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      win-winresources 5 years ago from Colorado

      Hello Alphagirl-

      It is certainly the homeowner's responsibility to do his homework and get clear in his mind what his project's goals and objectives are. He should also have some pretty clear idea about how much money he has to apply to the project.

      Beyond that, however, I believe it is up to the professionals to position themselves to win the contract by providing ideas, suggestions, materials and preliminary plans. They should do this as part of prospecting a potential account. No homeowner should be expected to take a single proposal or provide a blank check. Nor should thay be paying for preliminary thinking. Heck, if a contractor can't provide at least preliminary plans, how do I know if they can even do my project?

      If a homeowner is smart, they will get several preliminary proposals, pick and choose the specifics and ideas they like and then develop a bid document for several folks to bid on. In this way everyone will be bidding the same specification and the low responsive bidder will have won the business.

      I would also advise a reasonable performance bond to cover poor performance as well as requiring references (and checking them).

      Change orders are typically the result of inadequate planning or understanding of the job, or used to cover an intentional low ball bid. An unsatisfactory practice.

      There are plenty of hard working contractors who will be glad to provde these preliminaries in an effort to win the business.

      Of course I expect you to make your living, though not by demanding money upfront for plans nor prepayments. Would you pay a supplier before you receive the goods? I guess I find your approach to business as intimidating and arrogant.


    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I have been burned by a couple of contractors and really don't want to mention it because it would just bring up old negative feelings. You are so right that these days it is rare to find a contracto that does everything. And then there are the permits, drawings, etc. that have to be provided. Well, thanks for the reminder on what to prepare and to ask.