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Choosing A Contractor

A good contractor earns every dime you pay them, a bad contractor will take every dime you have.

There are several reasons good contractors make good incomes. They work hard over many years to acquire a wide set of useful skills. Good contractors almost always started as workmen of one kind or another – carpenter, plumber, electrician, you name it.

They know first hand what it takes to become skilled in those trades. They know by sight what constitutes work well done and when a job was completed poorly. Beyond that, they learn to be good businessmen as well.

Many may not have accounting and finance skills, but they know how to hire well. They know how to bid a job fairly and how to manage sub-contractors and workmen fairly and firmly.

That’s the kind you’re looking for. They’re out there. If you could get recommendations from friends and family about a reliable, competent contractor you wouldn’t be reading this. So what to do beyond that? To find one, start with common sense guidelines.

Ask for references. Hiring a contractor is an expensive proposition and this is no time to be shy. Automatic, unfounded suspicion will poison any business relationship at the outset. But good contractors aren’t sensitive about providing names and phone numbers for satisfied former clients. They know that referrals are the lifeblood of their business.

Once you have them, check them. Prepare a list of questions about the size and complexity of the previous project. Ask about the initial budget and schedule and whether they were met. It sounds intrusive, but most people will share that information gladly.

They, too, know that a good contractor is golden. They know it’s in their interest also to see that person succeed. That way, the next time they need those services he (or she, many are female these days) will still be in business.

You’re perfectly free to take risks. You’re not required (at least for some projects) to hire a licensed contractor. Some unlicensed contractors are skilled and reliable professionals who simply prefer to do business ‘under the radar’. But the odds are against you in that case, especially if the person is a stranger.

Ask for the license number and use it, along with the business and contractor’s names to check the Better Business Bureau and other local business groups. Check with city and state agencies to see if there are any complaints or actions pending. Most contractors are honest and some of those still find themselves subject to legal action. Clients, too, can be dishonest and ask for something they’ve no right to.

But, proceed with caution. Get any details you can. Many details of pending actions are kept confidential by law.

Interview the contractor as you would any employee. But remember to treat them as the skilled professional they are. Ask about previous work. Get details about the size of the job, length,  budget, etc.

Room remodelling is a much smaller job than a room addition. Deck additions are much simpler when it’s an 8 ft x 10 ft, 10 inches high attached deck on the rear of the house. Eight foot high decks constructed in a backyard with a steep hill are an order of magnitude harder. Specifics count.

Above all, you’ll have to judge the hardest thing of all to judge: character. Look for straight answers to straight questions. Look for someone who looks you in the eye. Watch for complaining or excuses about why the last job didn’t go well or why his workers let him down.

Honest, competent professionals accept responsibility for all phases of the job – and the outcome. Luckily for you, most contractors are like that.

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