Being a homeowner today and needing a contractor for any type of job, for lack of a better word, sucks. The cost of remodeling today is sky high and the pool of quality contractors, available to perform the work you need is drying up daily. I feel sorry for anyone, that has to cast their net into this deep blue ocean of tradespeople and see what type of catch they pull in. Unless your contractor comes highly recommended and has a stellar reputation, you are playing Russian Roulette with your house, your money and your sanity.
Regardless of how handy you are and how many hours of HGTV you have binged on, you will eventually need to find a contractor of some kind. When you do come to that point, here are 12 things to look out for.
note- I left out the completely obvious things such as: being licensed, having insurance and their general acumen in the particular trade you are hiring for. These are non starters as far as I’m concerned, so this list contains the grayer areas regarding your evaluation.
No web presence – This is probably my biggest red flag. If your contractor has been around for a while and has been working in the same market for at least 5 years, then there should be some traces or records of them online. I am not saying they need to have a website as there are many old school soldiers out there that can run circles around you and me that still work with pagers and fax machines, but you should be able to find evidence that ties their name, business and phone number together. If you find a guy and he has 3 different addresses and phone numbers over the last 5 years, that could be an indication that he gets into trouble and has to start over.
Tardiness- When you are first courting your contractor, they will probably come to your house several times. This will be a great test to see if they are on time. If they are running late, which happens to the best of us they should communicate that with you. This is a huge sign of professionalism or lack thereof. If they show up 30 min late without a text or phone call, I would beware.
Does not return communication back in a timely manner Depending on the type of work you need or the complexity of the job, there may be instances where you need to call or email the contractor you are considering for a few questions. How quickly do they get back to you? Phone calls should be returned the same day and emails, depending on how connected they are, should be also be returned at least by the end of the day. Go much longer than that and I can guarantee you will be singing the “I can’t get a hold of my contractor blues” once your job gets underway.
Un-kept – How your contractor presents themselves is a window to their soul. If they look like they just rolled out of bed or their dress simply does not match that of a professional then you may want to pause. I realize that some of you may not approve of this level of thin slicing, but I can tell you from many years of experience is most times, what you see, is what you get.
No proposal When it comes time to hand over the proposal or estimate for whatever work you want, how it’s presented will tell you a few things about your particular contractor. If they text you or write it out on the back of an envelope then I would run for the hills. You don’t need a 25 page bound report, but you do want something whether on paper or electronic that looks professional.
Messy truck or van or job site. This trait is not a giant red flag like some of the others, but it’s something to consider. It goes along with their personal grooming habits and is sometimes harder to spot as we can’t always get a look inside. However, it’s always good practice to take the step and go visit one of their active jobs to get a look at how and also where they operate. I realize that some artists are messy and that comes with the package sometimes. Hell, if you were to roll up on me at certain points during a job, you would be dumbfounded by the mess that I am capable of creating and also working in!
All talk, no listen. If you find yourself in the presence of a talker then watch out! Many times, the reason they are big talkers is because they cannot walk the talk. Confident and secure professionals do not need to blab incessantly to prove themselves. They will spend more time listening and thinking about the best ways to solve your problems, rather than constantly trying to sell themselves.
No references– Regardless of the impression that your potential contractor makes with you, verify at least 3 references. These should be solid and by that I mean they are from real people and from jobs similar to yours. IE, if you are looking for a painter, his reference should not from assembling IKEA furniture.
Take too long to get estimate or proposal back to you. As a GC, I use this metric to judge my compatibility with prospective sub contractors. If they need more than a week to get a number or proposal back to me, this tells me several things.
- 1. They really don’t want the job, so if they do get it, I will not be a priority and they will treat is as such.
- 2. If I have to chase them down for my initial number then I can guarantee you I will be chasing them down for the entirety of the job.
- 3. Sometimes, they are just plain lazy.
Too much money down. Big no no in my book. In Massachusetts the law allows you to collect as much as ⅓ of the total contract up front. I come across many contractors that request half up front! I’m hesitant at a third and I typically only require 10% from my clients. Now granted, most of my jobs are at the scale where this works, so I am not suggesting that percentage works across the board. Do stay away from anyone that wants more than what the law allows.
Wants you buy ALL the materials– Although there are many exceptions to this rule (my clients do provide some finish materials such as plumbing and light fixtures and appliances) be wary of the guy who wants you to provide all of them. This is a red flag for someone who is either just starting out or a contractor who has never graduated to level II of their business. Other possibilities are: bad credit (can’t get supplies anywhere because they’ve burned all their bridges) they don’t know how to estimate so they take the easy way out or they don’t know what to buy!
It just doesn’t feel right. Trust your gut. Your contractor will be in or around your home and close to your family. You MUST be able to trust them and if that little voice in your head is telling you something isn’t right, don’t ignore it. Your subconscious may be picking up something that you can’t quite put your finger on, but it’s there nonetheless. Better to be safe than sorry, then finding yourself saying “I knew something wasn’t right about him” and kicking yourself for not trusting your instinct when it’s too late.
Nathan Dishington of Jensen Hus is Design Build Contractor in the Boston area specializing in contemporary building and remodeling projects and dolling out occasional, marginal advice for homeowners and contractors looking to grow themselves and their businesses [email protected]