Whether you’re looking to improve your living space to better suit your lifestyle or want to spruce up your home before putting it up on the market, sometimes a little professional help is needed. Unless you’re extremely handy and a licensed contractor yourself, many times it’s necessary to call in the pros when it’s time to tackle a home improvement job.
But the contractor you bring in plays a critical role in the end result as well as the journey to project completion. You’ve likely heard many horror stories – whether from acquaintances or even from television shows – about homeowners who’ve been left in the dust by less-than-honest contractors. Whether the contractor did a shoddy job or even disappeared with the money before finishing it, these homeowners are left picking up the pieces.
To make sure you’re not scammed by a shady contractor, you’d be well advised to take a few steps in the searching and interviewing process before you hire a particular contractor to get your job done.
Be Careful With Some Review Sites
One of the more common ways for people to find supposedly reputable contractors is to search online reviews. While many sites post legitimate reviews from actual clients, others tout contractors in exchange for money. Many contractors get listed just because they’re willing to pay a fee for the positive reviews.
If a review website you visit asks you to complete and submit a form and wait for a contractor to get in touch with you, that site might not necessarily be trustworthy. Instead, they may just refer you to a contractor who has paid them for such referrals. Be wary of sites like these.
Use Angie’s List or Yelp
Two of the more reliable and honest referral sites online include Angie’s List and Yelp. As far as Angie’s List is concerned, there are a few different ways you can search for a contractor. One search method that you should steer clear of is looking for promotions. Contractors pay to be promoted, so searching by promotion won’t necessarily point you to the more reputable contractors.
Instead, search by your location. There is an option to search locally, which will pull up a list of contractors within a certain radius of where you live. Each one of these contractors will have their own list of reviews that you can peruse to help you narrow down which one you feel is the best fit for you. Be sure to look at all reviews – both positive and negative – to give you a more comprehensive idea of what it will be like to work with a specific contractor.
Yelp is also a great option. This site provides reviews for several different services, including contractors. Keep in mind that anybody can post a review on Yelp. That’s why it’s important to understand who is posting the review and where they are coming from.
Click on the link of each complainer to read other reviews they’ve left to see if that person has a tendency to rant about any and every professional they’ll every dealt with. A long list of complaints probably means the reviews left by this particular reviewer shouldn’t be taken very seriously.
Get at Least Three Bids
Once you’ve found a few contractors that seem to be OK, request estimates from each one. Ideally, you should be comparing estimates from at least three different contractors to give you a better idea of what type of work and cost you can expect.
Look at each estimate in great detail, and make sure the comparisons are of equal weight. One contractor might charge half of what another contractor might charge, but the scope of work might also be limited. The more detailed the estimate, the better.
An estimate of general tasks and materials listed might end up costing you a lot more at the end of the day if a myriad of additional costs are tacked on as the job progresses. Be sure that the estimate you are receiving lists as many tasks and materials as possible so that you can obtain a more accurate price of what you will be charged when all is said and done.
Make Sure Everything is in Writing
Everything you agree to should be detailed in writing in your contract, signed both by yourself and your contractor. Make sure that every detail of every step of the project is outlined, such as the start and finish date, payment schedule, proof of insurance, specific materials used, and an assurance of lien releases from your contractor in case he or she contractor doesn’t pay all associated third parties.
The contract should also stipulate what will happen if a change needs to be made at some point along the way. Any little change can make a big difference in the final price of the project, so be sure that an agreement is made on how such changes should be charged so there’s little room for any unpleasant surprises.
Ask Your Real Estate Agent
There are so many good reasons to have a real estate agent in your corner, and one of them is because of the network of professionals that they tend to have. Experienced real estate agents tend to know a lot of professionals in various aspects of the housing industry, including contractors.
Your agent has his or her own reputation to uphold, so you can be sure that a referral will not be made lightly. Your agent has every reason to make sure you have a positive experience, so the contractor referred will likely be a reputable one.
The Bottom Line
Finding the right contractor is a huge feat and is half the battle when it comes to making improvements to your home. The wrong contractor can wreak havoc on your home, and on your bank account. On the other hand, a sound contractor with a long track record of successful projects and satisfied clients can be a valuable asset. Make sure you do your homework and don’t cut any corners when it comes time to finding the right professional to take over your home improvement project.