Checklist: What to Look For in Your Next Contractor
So you’re thinking about a major home improvement project? Congratulations! When done properly, a home renovation project will make your home more enjoyable now and increase its value over time. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard the horror stories about home improvement gone bad—unfinished projects, shoddy workmanship, longer than expected project time-lines, final bills that come in higher than the quote, and more. I was shocked and embarrassed to find out that, according to Better Business Bureau statistics, contractors are the #1 most complained about industry, even ahead of auto repair.
We’ve always done a good job and treated our customers right. And we’ve been able to build a nice business because of it. But I’ve noticed over the years that some consumers will choose less-than-reputable companies to do jobs for them—usually because they are quoted less money. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for good, honest competition. But it bothers me to see good folks risk their hard-earned money with contractors who have no track record—or worse, a bad (but hidden) track record.
Industry standards just aren’t tough enough. I want to find a way to educate consumers about how to choose a home improvement contractor. The industry standards just aren’t tough enough—just about anybody with a hammer and a pickup truck can be a contractor. That’s why I’ve decided to update and republish this booklet called the “Code of Ethics & Competency for Contractors”. The Code calls for contractors to uphold a high set of standards that will allow you to judge beforehand whether or not a contractor is likely to do the job right. This guide specifies those standards.
Before you hire any company to work on your home, make sure you consult this guide and insist that the company comply with every single standard in this booklet. If you do, chances are excellent you’ll get exactly what you want out of your project.
Make sure that any contractor you do business with has proven themselves in the past and will be there if you need them in the future. Don’t just ASK the contractor if they are stable; look for tangible proof of longevity and financial stability by asking for the items listed on this page.
1. Physical Location
Believe it or not, many contractors use a pickup truck for an office. Make sure that any contractor you’re dealing with is substantial enough to have a real office with all the normal business functions—accounting, production, sales, and a real person to answer the phone.
2. Insurance Certificate
You need to know if your contractor carries general liability insurance for residential projects. A sizable contractor will carry no less than $500,000 and usually around $1,000,000 of coverage. If your contractor’s insurance policy can’t cover potential damages, then the contractor would be personally liable. If he cannot cover the damages himself, you will have no legal recourse and will end up paying for any possible damages or injuries yourself. Over half of contractors are not financially stable… and don’t carry proper insurance coverage to protect you against losses.
3. Business Licenses
Make sure the contractor has the required licenses/permits and has been operating under the same name for a minimum of five (5) years. Many contractors open and close their doors multiple times to avoid past customer complaints.
You can tell a great deal about a contractor based on what others are saying about them—particularly their customers. The old advice of “ask for 3 references” is just too easy to fake. You’ll need to get a little tougher with your contractor to protect yourself. Insist that any contractor you’re considering can produce the things listed on the next few pages to PROVE that their reputation is solid.
Any reputable company will be a member of their local Chamber Of Commerce and Better Business Bureau—and often multiple other associations.
If a contractor has been in business for any length of time — and doing a good job—they will most likely have been written about in a magazine or newspaper, received an award of some kind, or become certified from an association or trade organization. Any company that can’t produce at least SOME of these kinds of accolades might not be worthy of accolades!
3. Customer References
All reputable contractors carry pre-printed lists of references…. that include customers from 1 to 5 years ago, as well as customers from the previous six months. Most contractors will separate their lists into job types. So if you’re getting a roof estimate you would only get a list of the roofing references. If you want to see more previous client references your contractor should be able to provide a complete list.
A good company doesn’t just do good work. They also understand that when dealing with customers, it’s oftentimes the little things that make a big difference. You should find a contractor that shows you respect by the way they treat you, the way they look, the way they treat your property, and how they pay attention to details. You should also make sure that your contracting company gives you a professional bid that ensures you will not get stuck paying unexpected bills. You should also take the time to check out their references and business practices. They should only be interested in presenting themselves as a consultant with your best interests in mind, not rushing or pushing you to make an immediate decision or risk losing a “today only” price.
1. Employee/Worker Agreement
This is signed by each employee/worker hired by Nordine Remodeling, LLC. It contains guidelines on how to treat a customer’s home and possessions, proper attire for a job, how to deal with customer questions. By reading and signing this document, the employee/worker agrees not to use alcohol or drugs on the job site. This document guarantees that the employee/worker has the proper license and insurance required by Nordine Remodeling, LLC, the city, and the state. This signed document protects the homeowner and the contractor.
2. Bid Specifications
Many people are unaware that there are varying levels of job bid specifications. Most contractors provide no written bid or basic receipt or invoice. The minimum you should accept is a bid, which details the type and amount of materials to be used.
3. No Sales Pressure Commitment
Many unethical contractors will resort to high-pressure sales tactics to get you to buy before you’ve had an opportunity to do proper due diligence on them If you know nothing about the contractor before the sales call (from literature, reference, online information), and they give you a low-ball price “but only if you buy right this minute” You should be wary. Any time you feel uncomfortable or unduly pressured in a sales environment, you should ask the contractor to “back off.” Reputable companies will have a no-tricks, no-pressure sales pledge signed by the owner, sales manager, and each sales associate.
4. Job-Site Clean Up List
Your home and yard should be cleared of any large debris and dangerous material daily by the crew. After the job is completed, a total home clean-up should take place, including nail/ screw pickup and removal of any hazardous materials in your house or yard. Make sure your contractor has a pre-determined daily job site cleanup routine and a more thorough cleanup routine upon completion of the job.
Ultimately, any contractor has to be competent to do a job a right the first time. Competence comes as a result of training, experience, and good old-fashioned hard work. As you evaluate a contractor, look for signs that they can do the job right the first time.
1. Job-Site Photos
A contractor who serves his customers well should be proud to present pictures of their work. Ask to see photos of at several completed jobs. If pictures are not available, beware.
2. General Expertise
Trust in a company that knows your home. Select a contractor that has many areas of expertise, eliminating the hassle of hiring and dealing with multiple contractors for the same job.
3. Competitive Pricing
In a competitive marketplace, you need to be sure that you are getting the best possible price for your home improvement project. Naturally, price is only one component of the value equation, so all price comparisons must be done on an “apples-to-apples” basis. A good contractor will offer great value PLUS a competitive price. Look at the full package that the contractor has to offer not just the pricing. Less expensive is not always better!
4. Written Warranty
Either a contractor stands behind his work or he does not. Nordine Remodeling, LLC offers its customers a “WRITTEN WARRANTY” for labor and workmanship for five (5) years from the time their job is completed. The Iron Clad Warranty is given with the Manufacturer “Limited Materials Warranty”. Most other contractors do not offer this kind of warranty.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are you saying that you are the only company in the area that can uphold these standards?
A: No, many cannot uphold them, but there are some are good, honest contractors to be found. Just be sure to take the time and use this guide to make sure before you hire anyone.
Q: Are there any other things that I should look for/watch out for that aren’t listed in the pages of this guide?
A: Look for some of these telltale signs of contractors who shouldn’t be trusted.
- Main phone numbers that ring to a cell or home phone
- Main phone numbers that are never answered by a receptionist
- No business cards or cheap/homemade business cards
- No Yellow Page listing Few references available
- Unresolved BBB complaints or no report at all
- Prices that are unusually low compared to other bids
- No website or very poor website
- Ability to start your job immediately—no backing
- Unwillingness to give any information without being asked first
- No Proof of Insurance
Q: Can a contractor just “fake” these standards?
A: Not likely. Most contractors that don’t put any effort into making their business good also won’t put effort into faking these standards. It’s a lot easier for them to just move on to their next unsuspecting victim.
Q: What if a contractor says they can do all these things but can’t show proof?
A: Don’t settle for lip service. Demand to see the documentation for every single standard on this checklist.
An Ounce of Prevention
It’s been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When the stakes are high—your home and your wallet—that saying is even more true. I hope that by reading this guide you feel more prepared to evaluate home improvement contractors and make the best decision for your family. If there is anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to call me.