A word about selecting your contractor
By John Harding
Whether it's for lawn care, a new doctor, or a large remodel, selecting "the right" service provider is a stressful prospect for most people. This stress often magnifies when it comes to selecting a home contractor.
Some people feel lost and overwhelmed, others believe they are savvy consumers. The truth is, most people have no idea what to look for when selecting a contractor to work on their home and most often default to price as the deciding factor.
It's no secret that our industry has a sordid reputation for taking advantage of consumers and ripping them off. Sadly, I see it all the time. I see the social media posts or news stories about the dishonest or unscrupulous "contractor" who runs off with large sums of peoples' money. On an almost daily basis, we see - and have to fix - the poor quality work some less-caring or less-qualified contractor has done before us.
There are lots of excellent, reputable, qualified contractors out there. Finding one is the tricky part and requires effort. Here are some tips to help guide you.
1. Referrals and Reviews
To start the selection process, you should ask your fiends, family and neighbors who they have used for a project similar to yours and who they recommend. They should not just give you a name, but enthusiastically insist you use someone.
Be bold! If you see a sign in a neighborhood yard, or just driving around, stop. Go knock on the door and ask the homeowner if they would recommend that contractor. Maybe you get an opportunity to talk to the contractor him/herself if they are on site.
If you strike out with these sources, try the local decorating center or independent lumber yard and ask who they know is a reputable and quality contractor.
When you get a couple of options, check them out. Go to their website. Check out the business Facebook/Instagram/Houzz pages. Most importantly, check their reviews. Do they have one? Ten? Twenty? Are they good reviews or bad? Are they descriptive or one-liners? (Probably not much to base your decision on with a one liner)
I'm incredibly proud that Image Contracting has 5 Star ratings with Houzz, Facebook and Homeadvisor. We strive every day to keep it that way.
This is the second, but absolutely most important part of your decision. To the date of writing this, which is 10 years since starting my business, I have had exactly ONE potential client ask me for proof of insurance. One. Out of hundreds. That is downright terrifying. This step will quickly separate legitimate businesses from con artists or fly-by-night operators.
When you have gotten one or more referrals, have made initial contact and set up interviews for potential contractors, you should be prepared to ask about their insurance.
This is the most critical steps in your decision!
You should ask potential contractors if they have general liability insurance. If they have employees, do they have workers compensation insurance?
You cannot skip this step. Period!
A) Fly-by-night operations or con-artists are unlikely to pay for insurance if they are just interested in taking your money.
B) This is your only assurance that your home and your financial assets are protected. If your home or personal property is damaged or destroyed during or after a project, or workmanship is performed negligently or poorly, how will you be "made whole"? And be clear: if a worker gets injured on your property, you could be held liable without workers comp insurance. (The state of New Hampshire does not require workers comp insurance on sole proprietors or single member LLCs and you should not expect them to have it)
C) Ask for proof of coverage to be sent to you directly by their insurance agent. This one page document will verify they have coverage, the effective dates, and the amounts of coverage for each category (damage, injury, etc.) Minimum industry standard is $1 million in general liability coverage. If they have less, walk away.
D) MAKE SURE THE INSURANCE COVERS THE WORK BEING PERFORMED!!! Call the insurance agent or insurer directly and verify the following:
- Confirm that the policy is valid and in good standing and that the work you plan to have performed is within the scope of coverage.
- Is the contractor doing multiple trades him/herself? Framing, drywall, electric, plumbing...if so, does the policy cover all of them? Most basic general liability policies will not cover a non-plumber or non-electrician doing that work. Have a flood? House burn down? It's your total loss. Some policies don't cover structural alterations (removing/building a wall, additions, etc.). There are many exclusions on policies. Make sure you're covered.
- Is the contractor using any subcontractors? If so, confirm that his/her policy still covers his/her work. Most general liability policies that most small contractors carry do not cover a contractor once a certain percentage of their billable revenue comes from work performed by subcontractors. This invalidates the entire policy. If you have a loss and the insurance company investigates and audits the contractor, again, it could be your total loss.
Image Contracting carries $4 million in general liability coverage that includes completed jobs. Our policy is a General Contractor policy and covers work we perform regardless of how much billable work is completed by subcontractors. We also pay quite a bit more for "multi-trade" coverage which covers work such as plumbing and electrical, even if we complete it ourselves.
2020 Image Contracting Certificate of Insurance
I have had a handful more people ask me for references than insurance, but it's still only a handful. Now, to be fair most of Image Contracting's business is referral anyway, so the reference is built in. But, if you are comparing contractors, you absolutely must ask for references! And, CHECK THEM! You should have pictures of the job and a description. Confirm that the project you are looking at is the same as the one that was completed for the reference. Ask them about the quality of work, the cleanliness of the jobsite and the area not part of the jobsite, the ease of dealing with the contractor, if there were any surprises or problems, and in general if they would recommend the contractor to someone else. If you don't do this, you're taking the contractor's word for how great they are.
4. Estimates & Proposals
Any estimate or proposal you receive should be thorough and clearly spell out the scope of work. It should specify whether the estimate is for both labor and materials, or if not, what is included and what is not. It should reflect your expectations for the project, and if it doesn't you must address it and get clarification in writing. Don't assume it will all work out once the project gets started. You don't want to find out the quote you got for your kitchen didn't include the cabinets. Or the one for your bathroom remodel didn't include plumbing costs.
Ok. We don't use contracts on every job. I'm certainly not going to write one up for changing a light fixture or installing a door. That wouldn't be practical for anybody.
But for any substantial project involving more than a couple thousand dollars you should have a contract. And, it shouldn't be written on a napkin or a legal pad!
The contract should be thorough and legally binding. It should be signed by both parties. It should spell out a detailed scope of work (NOT just "build addition", "remodel bathroom", etc.) It should clearly lay out what's indluded in the job and what is not. If you don't see something you're expecting to be included, clarify and make sure it is added. It should have a defined timeline. When will work start? When will it be completed? It should list the contract price, any conditions for that changing along the way (additions or subtractions to the job, unforeseen circumstances, etc.). It should spell out the payment schedule: deposit amount(s), whether deposits are refundable or not, and a payment schedule for any installments.
This is all standard for reputable contractors and you should demand nothing less.
Notice I have placed this last. While contractors understand that in the real world everyone has a budget to work within, there is no such thing as a "deal" when it comes to quality contracting.
There also seem to be a lot of "rules of thumb" out there. Like: "Get 3 estimates and pick the middle one". Although I always tell people we will definitely not be the least expensive, we usually aren't the most expensive either. But, that should not just be the default deciding factor.
Your ultimate decision should be a combination of research and due diligence, the contractor's competency in your project, and comfort factor. If all that fits within your resources to fund the project, you have your winner!
Hopefully, I have given you some guidelines here to help you make what could potentially be one of the biggest decisions of your life.
This is your home. You deserve the best!
© 2020 Image Contracting, LLC