The projects may be varied. Some may be simple like interior painting or fixture replacement. Some may be involved like a new patio or addition. And some may even be somewhat unexpected, like plumbing repairs or a new hot water heater. But regardless of the project, you’ll still most likely find yourself needing the services of somebody skilled and qualified to help.
In my 12 years of running a landscape construction business, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great client roster with very few missteps along the way. But it takes work from both sides of the table to ensure a successful project, and it certainly takes an understanding of where both sides are coming from.
There are, fortunately, a few simple things that clients can do to help eliminate misunderstandings and help ensure a successful project and a pleasant home improvement experience. Here are the eight deadly sins to avoid when hiring a contractor.
1. Give Yourself Enough Time:
A successful project takes time. Time to plan, time to design, time to install. And most successful contractors will be booked out somewhat in advance, especially during the warmer busy season. Start the process early, and eliminate the schedule crunch. You don’t want to sacrifice quality or your desired design strictly because you’re up against the calendar. Don’t wait until Memorial Day to start planning that new patio you wanted for your son’s graduation party in June. And remember, a lot of work is weather-sensitive, so be sure to allow a slight cushion for everybody’s schedules.
2. Licensing and Insurance:
Before you even pick up the phone to schedule that initial consultation, make sure the contractor is licensed and insured. In most states, including Pennsylvania, contractors are required by law to be licensed and to post their licensing info on any and all advertising. That means yard signage, truck signage, business cards, etc. The licensing system is in place to protect you, the homeowner. If you don’t see any licensing info, be sure to ask if they are licensed and where you can find their license number. PA licensing requires active insurance policies, which most reputable contractors will be happy to provide separately upon request. PA licensing info can be verified via the PA Attorney General Hotline at 1-888-520-6680. If the contractor isn’t licensed or insured, proceed at your own risk.
3. Collect Multiple Bids:
I’m always somewhat surprised when I quote a large project and find out the homeowner isn’t collecting at least one or two other quotes. Personally I like to think that is because the client has the utmost confidence in my abilities and practices. To which I say thank you. But even still, even if you’re nearly 100 percent certain you’re going to go with a particular contractor, it can never hurt to get an extra opinion or idea. Maybe another contractor might have an idea or two which you haven’t even considered, an idea that could possibly be incorporated into the final project. Maybe that new idea isn’t such a hot one after all, but it can’t hurt to talk about it, right? The more discussions, the more ideas, -- good or bad – the more confident you will be in your project and the more successful the project will be..
There’s almost always somebody out there who will do a project for less. Just like there’s always a used car out there that will cost less than that new BMW you’ve been eyeing. Maybe the lowball contractor isn’t as experienced as other quotes out there. Maybe he’s unlicensed or uninsured. Are his workers legal and on the payroll? And don’t try to hold that lowball quote out there as pricing leverage. Experienced contractors know their costs and know what they need to recoup those costs. “You get what you pay for” almost always holds true.
5. Know your Contractor’s Skillsets:
Just because a contractor does amazing finish carpentry doesn’t mean he knows squat about plumbing. Carpentry, masonry, electrical work, plumbing, tree work – nearly all the trades have unique skillsets. And true, many contractors may be well versed in more than just one area, but it’s worth asking and following up if need be. Most experienced contractors will tell you they sub out specialty work to their stable of subs, or will at least tell you that’s not what they do. But don’t just assume we all do everything.
6. Is the Contractor A Good Match:
Contractors come in all shapes and sizes. Some may have multiple crews with a number of laborers and subcontractors coming in and out. Others may be smaller artisanal outfits who do great work but may take a longer time. And others may have specific salespeople who work with you during the sales cycle but aren't involved in the field work. Be sure to ask yourself what you’re looking for and what you’re comfortable with. Just because somebody does great work doesn’t always mean they’ll be a great match with you.
7. Ask for References:
Once you’ve met with a few contractors, collected the bids, and evaluated the estimates you’ll most likely be favoring one over the others. Now’s the time to get a few phone numbers of past clients and make a call or two. If you have the time, see if you can set up a time to swing by and take a look at past projects. True, some past clients may value their privacy, but they almost always will at least take a minute or two to tell you what they liked (or didn’t like) about working with a particular contractor. Maybe the work was great, but the crew played the radio too loudly or they kept the jobsite untidy while the project was underway. And most contractors will have a few local front yard projects available to look at without encroaching on people’s private yards. Normally everything will check out just fine, but it never hurts to spend a few minutes knowing what you’re getting into.
8. Stay Involved:
It can be a fine line between hovering and micromanaging vs. being available to discuss changes as they arise. Allow the contractors to have their space while they are working, but don’t just ignore the project as it unfolds. Once the site is cleaned up at the end of the day take a few minutes to evaluate progress. The project may have a slightly different look than you first anticipated based on the drawings. If you see something you’re not sure about, feel free to ask or address it before it goes any further. Most successful contractors make a point to involve their clients in every design choice and material selection before and during the project. It’s usually pretty easy to make a minor change or two as it is occurring, but if you wait until the project is nearly complete, it may be too late, or may incur significant costs to re-do. And nobody wants to hear “I wish we had done things differently” as the projects draws to a close.
So there you have it. Eight relatively simple steps you can take to ensure your projects will be a success. No matter what projects you may have lined up for the coming year, I wish everybody a happy and successful 2013!