DUE DILIGENCE for contractors-what to reserach and what to ask?

17 Replies

Hi-I'm looking for a roofing contractor to perform some roof repairs on my existing shingle roof and low slope flat patio roof. I received estimates from several roofing companies but want to perform my "due diligence"to evaluate their credibility, experience, skill, and reputation.

Beside checking the contractor state license board for complaints and the local Better Business Bureau for complaints, are there additional actions that I can take to discover which roofing contractor will perform the repairs properly and only those needed? 

I am suspicious checking "references" because the contractor might only provide those for satisfied customers and not for jobs with unhappy customers.

Thank you!

PS-I live in Los Angeles County. Thank you.

I'm curious how other users will answer. I usually have one or two go-to people, but after one or two bad experiences they're off my list. When I exhaust my list I either ask someone I trust or I use a service like Home Advisor, but that has mixed results as well.

i regret giving home advisor my phone# cuz they have contractors on service requests YEARS after the fact, ie a remodel in nyc i submitted 2 years ago, they have contractors still calling me on that request, here in la county.

what i gather is important is once decided on a contractor after inspecting work, etc is get their insurance certificate and call insurance to verify it is current and have the company assure me they are liable for anything that goes wrong while contractor is working on my property, etc 

also make sure they are using legal employees, ie what if they bring a helper that is not their employee but falls and get hurt, ditto what if they bring a next prospective client to show their work and they get hurt..

so many bases to cover in today's litigious atmosphere!

@Joseph Karbus  

here are a couple of quick steps:

Check there license # Contractors State License Board

Check for Insurance Certifications

Check References

Also, Request that all bids be submitted in writing (Not Verbal) and on letter head with a time frame or schedule.

I can get you a laundry list of question if you'll like.

Cheers.

Thank you Paul and Yes, I'd love to look at a a laundry list of questions-I've done what you mentioned but I've done that before and had poor contractor performers-it seems sometime contractors performance changes when the wind blows another direction!

Don't forget Home Depot has a referral list of licensed contractors who have additional incentive to complete jobs under the parameters of the contract or risk losing valuabl e referral business from Home Depot. 

This is from an architect's point of view ... 

For contractors in general... I think its also important to see how well they communicate with their subs. Often times the general contractor you're meeting with isn't the person actually doing all the labor. They might have a job foreman who is coordinating all the subs. They will be sending subs to your house to do work who might not even know what the project scope is. I have heard of friends who had remodels done where the subs come and ask "so what do I do?" even though the CDs had already been sent to the contractor! Then they just sort of wing it. Disaster. So just having construction documents isn't enough. You really have to manage and watch over them to make sure they know what they're doing. The best way is through references through people you know in the area. You really don't know how they will be in a project until you see them actually do it. 

Also if you are getting bids, make sure they actually specify a detailed list separated out to each phase like electrical, hvac, etc that they will be handling. Often times people accept the lowest bid, but the bid might entail lesser-grade materials, etc. 

If you need changes made, make sure to have a change order in writing. Don't just say it to one of the subs. Only talk about it to the foreman/GC. Things get lost in the verbal ladder and you might end up with something different. You can also ask how big your project is compared to all the other projects they're working on. If they have a much bigger project, or are working on too many projects, their communication lines/workers might be spread too thin. 

If its a big enough project, ask to see their current projects. If you can, try to stop by at a rando hour while they're working (when the GC) isn't there. The subs can usually give you a pretty honest feedback about the GC company. 

@Francis A.   I am a fan of HD, but I choose not to enroll at their system, it is just money making for them. I have an employee that worked for them before and all he does is send contractors to potential projects, then they get a cut, plus they have "preferred" contractors that give them more money on the side, aside from the commission they get from HD. That brings their price up, because whether they get the job or not, contractors have to pay HD system for the "lead". A corrupt system is not for me.

@Natasha Sadikin  I would agree in some cases, but do not generalize. There are some of us that do not operate that way, some of us are always on top of things, we aren't there for the profit, we are there for the customer satisfaction. "The subs can usually give you a pretty honest feedback about the GC company." - not necessarily, I have seen subs talk bad behind my back just because its only the second time I hired them, they tried to get direct contracts for clients, but in my case, he does not even qualify for the insurance requirements, and when he does, who is going to give him the work, nobody knows him.

@Joseph Karbus  I measure the subs through their insurance, if they have good insurance, auto/wc/GL/umbrella, is usually a good company, along with a reference that they worked but it must be an "office" or government entity in order for it to be valid. It is difficult to verify their bad clients, they will never disclose that to you. By the way, LA county does not have a BBB rating, it has an organization (which I think is only money making organization) called BCA Business Consumer Alliance, apparently they replaced the LA BBB so LA doesn't have BBB. If you want to check on complaints, call their Contractor's Bond (seen from CSLB website), that's the first to get hit when there is a complaint in my opinion.

Agreed on due diligence!! Always check certificate of insurance!! Always get a clear scope of work contract in writing! Having an extensive history both as a contractor and working with contractors I would tell you to call your local building dept. and ask for the direct phone # or line to the building inspector for the service type you are seeking. Most have cell phones and are very available these days. When you give them a call just ask them who they would highly recommend. If an inspector tells you that they do good work then THEY DO good work. Not only will they tell you who they recommend highly, they can tell you who to stay away from, as they know who cuts corners and has call back  for re-inspections due to not passing the first inspection. I will also add that these inspectors have the contractors contact numbers, (most of the time in their cell phone) for those smaller contractors that do great work at a lower cost but are hard to find because they don't have a large, (If Any), advertising budget. Some of them may have been doing a great job for many years on a referrals only, and are not even in the phone book. (That Was Me) These are generally the contractors you want to work with.  You will get great work at a fair price and wont be paying extra for someone's advertising. When I was contracting, not so long ago, I received a constant stream of calls directly from inspector referrals which was a great Win,  Win, Win for everyone.   

@Manolo D.  

You are correct, however I've found out that there will always be some kind of hand dipping in the "construction" business but I digress on the point of "corruption". That's another topic. ;-)

Personally, after experiencing  cases of "no fault rear ending" at the hands of contractors who came recommended, I'm perfectly happy not to "fight the system" at this point and focus on paying a small premium for a hassle free and on schedule completion.  My time is too valuable so that's the choice I've made. 

Upside for you is your tenacity will yield you a nice database of contractors to pull from.

All the best!

@Francis A.  If its not broken, don't fix it. At least, its working for you, I have heard some horror stories and it is just a personal choice for me to be strict with subs as it will give me more headaches if they are not professional enough. I have to build residential type subs though, my current subs are not investor friendly pricing, so there is no choice but to self perform 80% of the job, which I dont mind. Best of luck.

@Manolo D. Of course! Sorry, didn't mean to generalize. It was just observations I've had. There are tons of great GCs out there! We've had great luck in working with some good ones that we communicate very well with. The hardest part is finding them. 

I'm meeting with a couple different contractors on Monday for my first rehab project.  This thread's been helpful.  Any other advice, questions to ask, or things I should know prior to going into these meetings?

@Joseph Karbus  

I would ask for a "quote" and not an estimate.  Estimates are an open ended agreement that allows the contractor to raise pricing as the project progresses.  If you sign a quote for $10,000, the price cannot be changed unless you sign a change order.  I have been screwed by plumbers that would not quote me a price, and would end up thousands above what was originally agreed to.  Nothing to do with materials, but strictly labor.  They can tell me they spent 40 hours and completed in 20, but I paid for 40.  With a quote, I pay exactly what was agreed upon completion according to the schedule.  I make money on flips with quotes, I have lost thousands using estimates.

I like most of what i have read above. 

I have utilized angieslist.com in the past.   this is a review of contractors.  after work is performed property owners go on and write a review of said contractor. my experience is when i have called contractors off this list and then told them where i found their name they are very responsive and mindful i have read their reviews and will be writing one upon completion. 

i have found far more great contractors on there then not . 

those "pay for leads" services are terrible. 

what i do is call supply houses and get referrals from them. and i keep a running excel sheet. seems like i have to "update it", i.e... delete contacts weekly. it's a shame because that wastes a lot of my time. the last thing i want to do is "interview" more contractors.

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