Hiring a contractor is a daunting and sometimes even frightening proposition for many property owners. It only takes one bad experience with an unseemly contractor to skew someone’s view regarding the construction industry as a whole. Contrary to urban legend, not all contractors stammer out of a rusted out panel van reeking of alcohol and cigarettes. In fact, MOST contractors are well-mannered, clean-cut, skilled craftsmen/women or business owners. They take pride in their work and in their reputation.
So how do you avoid the scammers and second-rate workmanship? Follow the steps below and you will be on your way to hiring a quality contractor.
1) Plan your project carefully.
Educate yourself on the specific project you are planning. Know about building material options, the building process, necessary permits, and required licenses. Your local building inspector is a great resource for this type of information as well as the Internet.
2) Interview several qualified contractors.
Most people are amazed by the price differences they see from competing bids. Solicit written bids (3 or more) from experienced contractors. Price should only be one factor of many in the decision making process. There are times when extremely cheap pricing should be a “red flag”.
3) Check out contractor records.
License information and criminal records are often easily assessable online. In Wisconsin, websites such as Wisconsin Department of Safety (license status), Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (criminal/civil record), and the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau (complaints/commendations) provide the information you are looking for instantly.
4) Ask for copies of contractor licenses and proof of insurance.
Don’t take their word for it. Make sure licenses and insurance policies are current and valid. Ask for copies of contractor licenses and insurance policies and keep them in your files.
5) Ask for references and check them.
Many consumers will go as far as asking a contractor for references, but only call one or two on the list, if any. Make sure to contact all the references and ask specific questions. Examples of good questions to ask references: Did the price change at all after work was started? Was the quality of craftsmanship what you expected? Would you use this contractor again? If you had to name one thing the contractor could do better, what would that be?
6) Ask for a supplier reference.
All contractors have to buy materials, and often times they have a credit account with the supplier. Call the supplier and ask if the contractor is in good standing. By law, if the contractor fails to pay a supplier, the supplier can (and will) place a lien on your property for the cost of the materials used during the construction. No one would enjoy receiving a notice from a supplier that a lien has been placed on their home AFTER they have already paid a contractor in full. It is also a good idea to call the supplier and ask if the materials have been paid for before issuing a final payment to a contractor.
7) Obtain a written contract.
Cardinal Rule: If it is not in writing, it doesn’t exist. Always protect yourself with a written contract that cannot be changed without a mutually agreed upon amendment.
8) Do not pay 100% upfront.
Negotiate the lowest down payment possible. Do not provide a contractor with a down payment until the day that work starts, and after a contract is signed. A countless number of consumers have paid large sums of money to a contractor upfront only to have the contractor go missing soon after.
9) Call the local building inspector.
Before work begins, call your local building inspector and make sure all the required permits have been obtained by the contractor.
10) Pay the balance due only after you are completely satisfied.
Make sure all details are complete: the work passed final inspection; all touch-ups, clean-up, and final details are done; and the contractor provides written lien waivers from all suppliers and subcontractors.
Utilize the ten steps listed above and you will increase your chances of hiring a quality contractor that produces quality work.
About the Author:
Pro Roofing, LLC is a Licensed and Insured Roofing Contractor Located in Madison, WI. Pro Roofing, LLC has been Wisconsin’s Premier Residential and Commercial Roofer Since 1999.