Perfect Contractors Are as Elusive as Unicorns, So Here Are Your Choices

Perfect Contractors Are as Elusive as Unicorns, So Here Are Your Choices

4 min read
Ashley Wilson

Ashley Wilson is an avid real estate investor from the suburbs of Philadelphia. She owns several real estate businesses and focuses primarily on the operations of each business.

Ashley began her real estate career investing in short- and long-term rentals. She then started flipping houses in the suburbs of Philadelphia, while living in Europe. Upon her return, she moved into large multifamily.

Over her tenure, she has been involved in over $40M of real estate and has overseen over $5M in construction. Today, she focuses on both flipping houses and operating large multifamily properties, as the Asset and Construction Manager.

Currently, Ashley is a contributing blogger to BiggerPockets. She also was on BiggerPockets Podcast episode #277 and previously provided live content for BiggerPockets YouTube and Live Stream.

Ashley has also been featured on several podcasts, including The Real Estate InvestHer, Purchase to Profits, Best Real Estate Investing Advice with Joe Fairless, The Real Estate Syndication Show, The Multifamily Zone, Multifamily Marketing, and Cashflow2Freedom. In addition, Ashley has spoken at several real estate events including IMN Multifamily Property Management & Operations, MidAtlantic Summit, Diversified Investors Group, The Real Estate InvestHer, and Strategic Investor Alliance.

Ashley attended Colgate University and then later received her Masters of Leadership Development at Penn State University, where she was inducted into the Beta Gama Sigma Society. Ashley also holds a Six Sigma Lean Professional Certification and an Independent Rental Owner Professional Certification from the National Apartment Association.


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Before I approached my dad about partnering on a flipping company, I knew he would be perfect. He was a general contractor, who had owned his own business for over 47 years. He had previously partnered with other investors, too.

But most important of all, he was my dad. I knew him and trusted him implicitly.

Not long after that initial conversation, my dad gave me the best advice about working with contractors that I have ever received. Today, I am going to share that insight with you.

But first, let me set the scene. It was March 2014, and we had just had a conversation about partnering. We were both on board with the terms and division of responsibilities, and we had drawn up an agreement.

In short, my dad was responsible for managing the job, and I was responsible for everything else. We knew the price point we were seeking based on capital we had available. We just needed a house to get started.

It took six months for us to find our first house. Despite being in a bit of a panic because everyone told us we would make several offers before we finally got one, the initial offer we placed was accepted.

We forged ahead and started to discuss plans for the renovation. Part of those discussions involved the contractors we were going to use to do the work. As my dad had been in the industry for decades, he had an incredible list of contacts.

Calm middle aged man in checkered shirt sitting and looking attentively at his daughter while talking to her

We started scheduling estimates for each trade and waited. Fast forward to a week later, and we began receiving estimates. To this day, I still remember the shock I felt about some of the numbers.

The prices were way above what we had budgeted. I began to fear that the reason we got the house so easily was because we had overpaid.

It was at that moment, my dad said to me, “Ashley, there are only three things about a contractor: price, quality, reliability. You can only pick two.”

Being naive, I said, “Dad, that is not true. We must be able to get all three.”

Dad replied, “You can… They are called unicorns.”

It wasn’t long until I realized my Dad was 100 percent right. (I hope he doesn’t read this.).

To further drive home his point, let me detail what I learned.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Finding an Incredible Contractor

Save Money (at the Cost of a Subpar Experience) With These Contractors

Uncle Sal

Everyone has that friend or relative who is handy. If you are lucky, he or she is an actual contractor. Typically, they are able to help you out and will probably do good work for little to nothing.

Unfortunately, they are never reliable. This is likely because they have another job and are only helping you out when they have time. As time is money in this business, having someone who is not reliable will impact your timeline and in turn affect your holding and opportunity costs.

This can also be true for contractors. Many contractors are very good at what they do, but they are awful business people. They will give you a fair price, but their scheduling and time management are the worst.

woman in business attired seated at desk looking at laptop computer with arms raised in wonderment and disappointment


While initially you think you are saving a ton of money, you quickly realize the work quality is poor—which could cost you more in the long run to fix. These people show up because they really need the money. Their pricing is typically reasonable, but they need to be watched carefully to ensure shortcuts are not being made.

What is potentially worse is that ultimately these people increase the liability on your business. Even if you are lucky enough to get through a buyer’s inspection without major issues, due to the litigious nature in the U.S., it is just not worth the risk.

Related: The First Time I Was (Knowingly) Ripped Off by a Contractor

Pony Up the Money (for an Excellent Experience) With These Contractors

Les Entrepreneurs en Construction

This is the company you see everywhere that has five-star reviews. Their quality and reliability are superb, but their pricing reflects it.

The reason their pricing is high is because they typically have high overhead costs. So, while it is nice to get an estimate quickly or to speak to an actual person when you call, you are paying for this convenience.

There are obviously benefits to this, too. Working with a company like this requires little to no oversight and lowers your risk for inspection findings when you go to sell.

If you can afford these contractors, it will save you a lot of time and headaches. Just know that your bottom line will take a hit when you sell.

How I Choose Contractors

Now knowing all of this, how should you choose your contractors? Well, grab your leprechaun and go search for unicorns!

OK, that might not be the answer. So, let’s start with what we did.

For our first house, we actually did a lot of the work ourselves. But in parallel, we searched for those unicorns. We soon realized that there are varying degrees of the three metrics my dad identified (price, quality, reliability).

While certain contractors may not live up to unicorn standards, there are quite a few very good looking horses out there. They may take some time to find, which is why I wrote a whole other article about finding them!

It will be challenging in the beginning. However, eventually, you learn to adjust your rehab estimates and manage your projects based on the horses you have in your stable.

What tips do you have for finding good contractors? What bad contractor experiences have you had?

Share below!