Choosing a quality contractor can be a daunting task, but contrary to what many believe, finding one does not require a forbidden act of black magic, sacrificing small animals, nor a gazillion headaches. However, it can require diligence, patience, time and tenacity.
Why is that? And are there any quality contractors who are cheap? Are there cheap ones who are quality? Yes, yes there are, and, well, yes, but they are rare.
After spending the last several years in the “world of inspections” I have seen a thing or two when it comes to “cheap” contractors versus “quality” contractors. Let me share with you a few tips when hiring a contractor.
Diligence = Homework
Just like school, if you don't do your homework, you're far more likely to get bad results. This homework can involve calling former and present clients, asking your friends, looking on Yelp (that carries much less weight for me than, say, Google reviews) as well as websites like HomeAdvisor.com. On the latter, I recently had a stellar experience with Home Advisor. A couple clicks, and boom, the contractors were calling. But enough about me...
Patience and Tenacity = Take your Time, Dig Deep!
Don't make rash decisions, do consider every contractor carefully. "Oh, this one sounds quality" really is not quality enough and is a disservice to you. Schedule, say, one a day for 3 to 5 days for your project, and have them all submit written reports, with pricing, and make them guarantee that price!
Also, lay out your project as exactly as you want it completed, leave nothing to chance. Better prepared, better results.
But I Like Cheap, Cheap, Cheap!
That's all well and fine at times. The dollar menu at McDonald's has some great items for cheap, but have you ever heard the saying "Quality isn't cheap, and cheap isn't quality"? That does not just apply to cars, appliances, and clothing. Nope. Cheap relates to contractors as well, that doesn't mean, however, that pricey is better either. A Bugatti, at $2.5 million, will get you to the supermarket just as well as a Prius will. Sure, you'll turn more heads in the Bugatti, but you'll also have jealous people glaring at you, and, frankly, you're running the risk of being robbed in the Bugatti. However, the Prius, as much as I dislike them, is a practical and efficient vehicle. Go with that.
Down to the Nitty Gritty
What's the difference between a quality contractor and a cheap one? Well, price, of course. But let's dig down some.
I have, in the course of my life, picked up a lot of seemingly random information on so many topics that sometimes I surprise myself. The other day a resident mentioned that her check engine light had come on in her car, and without missing a beat I was able to diagnose the issue in a couple of questions. Does that make me a mechanic?
Not! I'm a horrible mechanic! However, I have had and fixed, enough car issues over the years, and I have remembered all these issues so that I can, perhaps, avoid them in the future.
Recently an auto shop tried to sell me a ton of parts and services that I knew I did not need. "Your tie rods are bad." No, they are not, I had them installed a year ago. What they said did not ring true.
A Quality Contractor...
- Will tell you the upsides, and well as the downsides, of the job at hand.
- Will permit you to talk to other customers.
- Never asks for any money up front.
- Is licensed and insured and will happily prove it if asked.
- Will give you a written estimate and will stick to that estimate.
- Includes material and labor costs in the estimate.
- Makes quality on subpar work.
Anyone can tell you the upside of any project, but a pro tells you the whole thing, and usually gives you options, with prices.
If they have a lot of past satisfied customers, a quality contractor knows that is the best, and cheapest advertising, they can get.
There are so many horror stories, as I'm sure you have heard, of "Joe the Handyman," (or even full-on contractors) require money up front, and then they vanish. My advice? Just Say No. If it is a crazy massive job that requires a lot of materials, then maybe, but charge it on a credit card so that you have fraud protection, AND request, in writing, the date the work will start, and finish. Also request a penalty in the contract that if they don’t complete your job by the date in the contract, the cost to do the job is reduced by $100 - $250 a day. If you have to take them to court, you have yourself covered.
Quality AND Cheap?
Some quality contractors do not gouge, but again, too cheap and you'll get cheap results.
Here is a great example: I once sent a contractor out to a house to do a straightforward job. The job was to fill a hole with dirt where we removed a hot tub.
He brought bags of manure. Okay, it gets worse.
I just happened to pass by the day he was doing the work, and I saw the bags of manure in his truck. I use the same brand in my yard. It's $1.09 a bag.
I called out, "Hey, you're using manure? That will collapse and sink in overtime!"
He called back that no, it wouldn't because he had a special way of installing it. I'm thinking he's going to vibrate it with an asphalt vibratory plate compactor or something.
He put the bags, unopened, into the hole, and covered it with more manure.
The moral is, cheap usually get you the results you deserve.
The reality is, you usually get what you pay for. For my money, I'd rather get a job done right, once, that wrong several times. However, bad things happen. A contractor can make errors, but here's the bug juice: will they correct the mistake at their cost and do it within a week? Ask yourself that when you're mulling over the contractors for your project. And ask them. In writing.