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Struggling to Find a Stellar Contractor? Try These 9 Pro Tips

Brandon Turner
7 min read
Struggling to Find a Stellar Contractor? Try These 9 Pro Tips

Imagine this: A few weeks ago you call six different contractors to take a look at a small repair job on your home. Every single one went to voicemail. Okay, understandable. You figure they’re busy working and leave a message. In total, four of them call back, and you schedule an appointment with each of them to get an estimate. Of the four appointments, two of them never showed up. Wondering how to find a contractor (who doesn’t suck)? You’re not alone.

Of the two remaining, one contractor said he didn’t know how to do the job. The other said he would call back with an estimate in 24 hours. Another local contractor only handles whole home renovations. A week went by—and now his phone is disconnected. Now you’re stuck without the help you need and the repair still needs to get done. For anyone who’s ever tried to hire a contractor or handyman for their home or business, this scenario probably sounds all too familiar.

Why is it so tough to find good contractors?

To begin, contractors are not generally not good business owners. Just because someone can bake doesn’t mean they can run a bakery. The same thing can be said about contractors. Just because someone can swing a hammer doesn’t mean they can answer phone calls or show up on time.

Secondly, contractors don’t always have to be good. A lot of times they just have to be quick or cheap to meet certain needs. Real estate investors and homeowners are always looking for a good deal nowadays. This means they don’t typically call the best people for the job because they know they’ll be too expensive, too big for small maintenance jobs, and will be booked out three months.

But none of this means you have to settle for a contractor that doesn’t fit your needs. Given some time and research, you can figure out how to find a contractor that can get the job done properly.

Despite what you just read, there are great contractors out there. But finding them and the ones that are best for you can take a little time. Here are the best tips to help find good contractors and narrow down the list.

1. Be proactive, not reactive

Have you ever heard the old phrase, “The best time to look for a job is when you don’t need one”? The same principle applies to contractors. If you’re only looking for one when you need one, you’re setting yourself up for problems from the start. Instead, be proactive. Have a continually evolving list of people you could call for various problems and continue to add people to the list even when you don’t need someone at the moment.

2. Understand price vs. cost

These two terms may sound the same, but there’s a key difference when it comes to hiring anyone or making investments in your business.

“Price” is the monetary amount paid when you purchase something, but “cost” is the long-term monetary amount paid over the life of a product or service. For example, the price of dishwasher A might be $400, and the price of dishwasher B might be $500. The first option has a lower price, but if it requires an extra $20 per month in energy bills that the second option doesn’t have, it’s not really saving you anything in the long run.

You see, buying for cost rather than price is a subtle difference, but it can have a tremendous effect on your business. This principle also applies to hiring a contractor.

3. Ask for referrals

One of the best ways to find good contractors is by asking others who they have used for similar work. It’s a simple yet effective method that can help you out as well. But get referrals from a number of different people you trust. When people know a contractor has done great work in the past, it’s likely they’ll do so in the future.

4. Google them

References are great, but doing your own research is also key to picking a contractor. It’s like a referral… but from tons of people on the internet. Here, you can also check if they have been a part of any shady activity or if there are any active disputes. Check out their profile on the Better Business Bureau and see if they’re in good standing. If they’re private that could be a bad sign.

Putting their name, their company’s name, your city, and terms like “scam,” “rip off,” “complaints,” or “court” into a search can often unearth any red flags about the person. For example, if you wanted to find out more about First Rate Construction Company in Metropolis, you would search things like:

  • First Rate Construction Metropolis
  • First Rate Construction scam
  • First Rate Construction sue

5. Check references

Always check references. Despite what you might think, even references supplied by the contractor will generally be honest. Also make sure to ask for examples of the kind of work you plan on getting done.

It’s a good idea to ask for multiple referrals and from the most recent jobs they’ve completed. Call the reference and ask if the contractor showed up on time, if they completed the work, if they tried to change the dollar amount mid-work or after it was done, and if they would use them again.

Even ask professionals you like who have previously worked on your home. For the most part, good subcontractors tend to work with other good subcontractors. Ask your electrician if they know any good plumbers. Ask the plumbers if they know any good carpenters and so on.

You can also look at review sites like Angie’s List (now Angi) or Yelp for reviews.

6. Ask questions

References and recommendations are great, but they aren’t specified to you. Asking the right questions that are tailored to your needs is a great way to find the right contractor for you. This pre-screening process will help you weed out ones you don’t like early on. Here are some examples you can use:

  • How long have you been in this line of work?
  • What skill would you say you are the best at? Do you like bigger remodeling jobs or small repairs more?
  • What job tasks do you hate doing?
  • In what cities do you typically work?
  • How many employees work for you? (Or work in your company if you are not talking to the boss.)
  • How busy are you?
  • Do you pull permits, or would I need to?
  • If I were to hire you, when could you start knocking out tasks?
  • What payment schedule do you prefer? When will you want the final payment?

Then, set up a time to meet and show them the project if you have one. Set an appointment so you can see if they are on time, look professional, and see how they act in general. Do they seem knowledge and capable for the job? If everything feels okay after this first meeting, you’ll be able to make an informed decision whether to hire them or not.

7. The 6 a.m. Home Depot trick

Go to Home Depot at 6 a.m. and meet the contractors that are there. These are the contractors who get up early and get their supplies before heading over to the job site. This is a strong indication that they know what they are doing and are not going to take advantage of you. Although this is no silver bullet, it can give you an idea of contractors who take their work seriously and get started early in the day.

This will also be a good time for you to ask the store’s employees who they would recommend. They have a unique insight into the quality of materials that the contractors use, as well as the experience level and management style of those who buy from them.

8. Have contractors compete

Sometimes the best answer is not finding one contractor, but several who can compete for your business. Having them compete will help breed competitiveness that will drive price and quality. If you let them know you have other pros on hand, they will be sure to give you their best prices, quality, and attention.

Some investors or homeowners call three to five contractors to do a bid and tell them all the same time, both to minimize the hassle of meeting multiple contractors and encouraging lean bids. Keep their names and contact information on file in a place you’ll remember so you always have it when you need it.

9. Verify potential contractors

Verify that they truly do have a license to do whatever work you intend for them to do. If they are an electrician, make sure they have an electrical license. If they are a plumber, make sure they have a plumbing license. If they are a general contractor, make sure they have a general contractor’s license.

Next, make sure they do actually have the proper insurance and bond. Simply ask the name of their insurance agent and verify it with that agent. Good contractors should be able to provide you with proof for all of this.

Why you’ll never find a good contractor

If you’re still struggling with how to find a contractor, that’s understandable. Finding the right one for you can be an arduous process. But sometimes, it’s important to reflect on yourself, what you’re looking for in subcontractors, and if you’re going through the process in the best way for yourself. Here are four reasons you’re making everything that much more difficult on yourself.

1. Your expectations are too high

You’re expecting your contractors to be perfect at everything, to tick every box you’re looking for and that’s just not possible. But that’s also why it’s important to have more than one on your list so that you always have someone for all of your needs.

2. You always take the lowest bid

The conventional wisdom is to get a minimum of three bids then take the lowest one. Some people say the more bids the better. The problem is that contracting is a service, so you get what you pay for. Sometimes saving money means losing quality. That’s why it’s so important to know the difference between price and cost.

3. You don’t understand overhead quotes

The majority of good contractors will never give itemized quotes—especially because the vast majority of people don’t understand business basics, such as overhead expenses. Also, there is a massive falsehood that says a “fair” contractor markup is 15%–20%. That’s not true.

Every contractor inevitably underbids one part of a project and overbids on another. There are just too many unknowns and variables to account for when bidding. This results in the entire project getting underbid, and the contractor is guaranteed to lose money.

4. Your goals don’t align

Most contractors want to provide quality work that they can be proud of, along with fair wages to support themselves, their family, and their employees. Quality and good wages are both subjective, so it’s easy for your interests to not align. But this is why it’s so important to go through the process of finding the right contractors for your needs so that everyone is on the same page.

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.