A Homeowners Guide To Hiring A Contractor

A Homeowners Guide To Hiring A Contractor

As the current economy continues to dictate a more frugal approach to so many parts of our lives, homeowners are experiencing a myriad of concerns when seeking out a contractor.

It is extremely important to hire high quality and honest businesses to avoid contracting disasters. Don’t think for a minute that many of the less reputable building and remodeling companies are not cutting corners to accommodate expenses!

In fact, many of these businesses have jeopardized their reputations by deceiving their customers, ultimately losing their client’s faith and subsequent patronage. It’s a terribly unprofessional situation but it is a reality and one every homeowner should be aware of. In order to avoid the many problems associated with contractors who are looking out for themselves rather than you there are several guidelines to follow.

It is imperative that you, the homeowner, become actively involved with who you hire in order to ensure that you not only get what you are paying for but that the quality of workmanship is not compromised by cost cutting.

Here are some tips to help you know what qualities a good company will have and what to look for in shady companies that could turn your project into endless headaches and even heartbreak when engaging a contractor.

What to look for in your contractor:

Insurance and Licenses 

Quality and service never go out of style, so even during a recession be sure to hire a contractor with a great reputation.

A reputable company will always have a Massachusetts Home Improvement Contractor License (HIC). You can learn more about this license at mass.gov.

In addition, most home improvement projects require a Construction Supervisor’s License (CSL). Make sure the company you are considering has one or several members of the staff with these credentials.

Next, make sure the company you are considering is fully insured with liability and worker’s compensation insurance.

Ask for proof of insurance and call the agent listed on the forms provided to ensure you are getting the real thing. Amazingly, many contractors fabricate insurance papers or keep two sets of books to minimize their insurance costs.

An honest company will claim all of their employees and cover them with insurance and make sure all subcontractors are fully insured as well. This is important because if you hire an under or uninsured company than YOU assume all insurance coverage.

If injury or property damage was to occur and the company you hired is not covered, than you are liable for insurance coverage.


Your home is usually your number one asset, so make sure you hire a company with the experience and know how to bid and manage your project. In general, you should look for a company that has been in business under the same name for at least 10 years.

That will ensure that they have been through the ups and the downs of the business and have systems in place to provide you with service before, during, and after the project is complete.

Great Reputation

There are thousands of companies available for you to choose from.

How do you narrow down your list? Well, a good start is to ask friends and neighbors what company they have used. If they liked the company they will surely rave about them to you. You can also just look around and see what companies are doing the most work in your area.

Chances are if you see their signs and trucks everywhere they are doing a pretty good job.

Low Staff Turnover

The most important asset of any well-run company is a great staff.

Ask each company you are evaluating how long members of the team have been with them. This should include employees and subcontractors as well as foremen and laborers.

A consistent and cohesive production team will contribute directly to your satisfaction with any project. Smart business owners treat their staff well and this shows in how the staff treats you and your family.

Hire Local

You should hire a company based within 30 minutes of your home.

There are plenty of them out there. During slower times some contractors will drive for hours to a small job. This is not good for them or for you. Many folks make the mistake of hiring a referral from 60 plus miles away.

While this can seem like a good deal at first, you’ll soon discover that short workdays to accommodate a long commute are the norm, and that future service calls will be virtually non-existent. Always look for a local company that cares about its local reputation and you’ll get better service and quality.

Now, here are some things you should look carefully at when evaluating your options. Make sure you create a checklist and avoid these potential pitfalls:

Project Overload

When they find themselves in a cash crunch, many companies will undertake more projects at one time than their workforce can handle in order to generate cash flow.

One-crew operations may actually attempt three or even four jobs all at one time.

Moving from job site to job site in a vain attempt to stay on schedule ultimately leads to dead time on each project which is obviously counter productive and inevitably leads to serious delays in the completion of your job. In essence your money is actually paying for other jobs, as delays on your project grow longer and more frustrating.

The best way to avoid this nightmare is to check with potential contractors on the size of their workforce, the number of jobs they run at a time and whether or not your crew will be dedicated to your project and yours alone. Also, ask for references on completed work.

Glowing referrals are winning advertisements for any company.

The Balance Sheet

In a slow economy, lesser contractors may quickly find themselves behind in payments to lumberyards or various supply houses.

This can lead to delays in material deliveries, which in turn will lead to labor delays. When these problems arise the contractor may then start up another project just to help fund the failing one.

It’s a catch-22 that will always lead to disaster in one form or another. So what can you do to ensure this doesn’t happen to you? Your best recourse is to request a letter of reference for the contractor’s most used supplier, preferably before hiring.

Thisis a simple request that would never be denied by a firm in good standing.

Paying The Subcontractors

When a contractor is in financial trouble most often it is the subcontractor who suffers.

This is potentially the worst scenario you can face because what can happen is the subcontractor will virtually declare war on the contractor.

What this situation can lead to is the subcontractor may delay work on your project. They may visit the site to take back materials they have not been paid for; they may start calling you for the money they are owed, or worse yet, they may file a mechanic’s lien to recoup their lost funds. And you will be caught in the middle with nowhere to turn.

The best thing to do before hiring is to research the contractor’s history. The biggest warning sign to look out for is if the contractor is using new subcontractors on every job.

This usually means that the last group who worked for him encountered problems and won’t work for him again. Ask how long the current subcontractors have been used. Again, in this instance, request a reference. If there have been no problems the contractor will be more than happy to supply you with the necessary information.

If not, your guard should go up.

Inferior Materials

This is an easy way to manipulate a job. It’s very simple for a contractor to substitute materials.

Almost every building material has a cheaper alternative. As the buyer you need to make sure that you are getting the quality merchandise promised to you and that you expect for the money you’re paying. You must get it all in writing. Ask that all materials be specified in the contract and then, be diligent and make certain the materials used on your project are what you specified.

Remember, they are working for you so check out the materials they bring to your job site. Don’t be afraid to be hands on.

Too Good To Be True

This should probably go without saying and it applies to just about everything.

If the price is unusually cheaper than the competition there’s probably a reason why. When getting multiple bids on your project you should find that for the most part contractors will be within 10 – 25% of each other. Any quote that varies down significantly more than that should raise a red flag.

Usually what such a difference in price range means is that it was a mistake to begin with or worse, they are severely cutting overhead costs – and that could mean things like insurance or licensing. Cheaper could just mean cheap.

Always remember, in order to get the best quality and service for your hard earned money you have to do your research before you hire a contractor. The age-old adage applies, “Let the buyer beware.” It’s your home, your pride and joy.

Don’t let yourself be taken in by someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Hire a reputable local contractor for your home improvement projects and you’ll be glad you did.


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