How do I choose the right company?

For the average homeowner, weeding through the yellow pages or internet to find the right contractor is about as pleasant as going to the dentist to have them drill for oil in your mouth. Finding a genuinely qualified contractor that puts customer satisfaction first may seem like a fairytale in today’s society. Where do you start? What’s the most important factor to consider? Is it price, reliability, credibility, references, longevity, or a confusing conglomeration of all of these? Even though there are many different web-based companies that offer to help you choose a “qualified” contractor, is this really an unbiased third party, or do they have their own agenda in mind?

If you feel that this situation well describes your feelings when home improvement time rolls around, you are not alone! Many people today dread hiring a contractor because they have heard so many horror stories, but feel at a loss to know how to avoid repeating someone else’s mistake. Don’t despair! With a few pointed questions either delivered in person or even over the phone, you can fairly easily weed out the “fly-by-night” do-it-yourselfers that offer only a tail light guarantee (“I guarantee my work for as long as my tail lights are visible!”) and find yourself in the hands of a reputable, experienced, qualified contractor that will treat your home as if it is his or her own.

Here are a few questions that will help you:

  • “Are you a State licensed General Contractor?” – Most professional trades have a certain amount of overlap of skills, abilities, and procedures to some extent, and a General Contractor is required to have a comprehensive knowledge base that will cover a variety of situations. State General Contractor licensure requires periodic retraining and retesting, so you can be confident that a currently licensed GC is aware of and is practicing up-to-date trade building procedures and ethics.
  • “Do you use sub-contractors, or employees?” – This is a VERY important question to ask! A contractor that uses subs is leaving you open to the age old question: “Who is ultimately responsible if and when I have a problem?” When issues or concerns arise, you do not want to discover a cluster of finger pointing blame-gamers with no responsible person in sight. A contractor that uses hired employees is taking all the responsibility upon themselves to make sure that in the end you are happy with your work.
  • “Do you carry Workers’ Compensation coverage, or exemption?” – Again, this point cannot be overstated. By nature of the word, EXEMPTION, limits the contractor’s liability in case of injury or accident, and can actually leave YOU open for liability if someone carries on unsafe practices on your property. A contractor with full Workers’ Compensation coverage is demonstrating that they already value you enough as a potential customer to protect your person and property.
  • “Do you perform background checks and drug test your employees? Can you prove it?” – I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining why this is important. Statistically, most robberies are committed by someone who has already been in your home. A responsible, reputable contractor will pay the money up front to protect you and your family from potential danger because that is what you deserve, and because employees are the reflection and responsibility of the contractor that hires them.
  • “Why should I choose you over someone else?” – A good contractor is not necessarily the cheapest one, especially when you consider all the things listed above that they should have done long before you call them. While price is a factor, Benjamin Franklin said it best when he observed that “the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” After all, what is more important to you? Saving a few bucks for a single purchase and then experiencing years of frustration and regret, or having the deep satisfaction of knowing that you got exactly what you paid for? Rather than focusing on dollar amounts exclusively, ask the contractor to explain what they offer you in the way of products, service, and options, and then shop around to see if other companies can offer you the same for a lower cost. And remember, don’t just take a salesperson’s word for it. Is their product the best? Prove it in writing! Is their company the best? Again, prove it! What documentation can they provide that supports their claim? Making sure that a company is putting their money where their mouth is will help you to get your money’s worth, instead of ending up with a shopping cart full of the latest snake oil available.

So in review, weeding through the haystack of businesses and finding the golden needle is not impossible and can even be enjoyable once you are armed with the right tools. By asking the right questions and making sure that you are given, not empty sales pitches, but genuine proof, you can find your match made in contractor heaven…and happily ever after may not be as far off as never-never land after all!


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