Let’s face it, there is no hard or fast way to tell whether a contractor you plan to work with is going to do right by you. However, there are certainly some steps you can take to reduce the chances of choosing a shady contractor.
There are several points of reference that you can check before even deciding to give a contractor a call. The following research steps are arranged in a manner meant to make it easier to do the harder checks at the end. By starting with the first step and working your way down, you are hopefully down to a select few at the end that you can be certain are the cream of the crop.
- Visit a site like Yelp or Angie’s List and search for contractors in your area. Using a user reviewed search engine (instead of Google, for example) is going to help you weed out a lot of bad eggs right off the bat. Seeing how past customers talk about their contractors is a great way to see if they are someone you have any desire to do business with. Make a list of the ones that stand out to you.
- Once you’ve narrowed the pool a little, visit your state’s contractor licensing board, and go through your short list to verify two things: (1) that they are licensed and (2) that they are bonded/carry the state minimum required liability insurance. This may narrow your list further, it may not. In a perfect world, all contractors will be operating legally. However, not all will. If a contractor is NOT licensed/insured, cross them off your list immediately. This signals that they will likely try to cut corners in other aspects of their work as well, but even more importantly—depending on your state laws any liability could fall on you if you hire an unlicensed contractor.
- The next thing you should search for is how long that company has been in business. Many experts say go with the rule of three—if they’ve been operating under a name for less than three years, be cautious. They may truly be a young company, but that could mean that they have less collateral to cover building costs. They may also be an older company that went under due to a bad reputation or legal issues and have assumed a new name to cover their tracks. Look for companies who have been around for at least three years—if they’re still operating after that long, they probably have a good business sense and haven’t had many, if any, legal issues.
- Next, it’s time to check for those infamous legal issues that we talked about in the last step. Go to your area’s courts (whether online or in person) and conduct a search of court records for your contractor’s business name.
- Finally, it’s time to check your contractor’s commitment to their craft. Visit their website, see how they present themselves online. While you’re there, check if they have won any awards or pursued any extra education—these things should be prominently displayed on their sites or social media. Also, see if they are certified in any industry standard areas. For example, check if they are a Certified Ethical Contractor. Certified Ethical Contractors have made a commitment to ethical business practices. If they haven’t achieved this certification, encourage them to do so.
Phew, that was a lot of work, right? However long this research takes you, just remember: doing your homework up front on a contractor can save you a ton of time and a ton of money. Choosing a contractor who is right for you might even take as long as the project itself, but chances are you’ll end up with a good contractor who will complete the project to your satisfaction.