In Life at Home, Your Home

In 2013, its 100th year, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) released a list of the Top 10 industries nationally for which it received inquiries.1

It included:

  • #1 Roofing Contractors
  • #2 Contractors – General
  • #10 Construction and Remodeling Services

These inquiries aren’t from people reporting problems. They’re concerned about choosing the right contractor before starting their project. They want to know if there are any complaints or issues connected to someone they might hire. Checking out a contractor is simple to do and the best first move homeowners can make before starting a home construction or repair project. And yet, many people don’t check in with the BBB until it’s too late, when they want to file a complaint against a contractor. According to a report from the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Bureau, in 2014 the home improvement/construction category was:

  • #2 on the list of top 10 complaints
  • #3 on the list of fastest growing complaints2

So how do you protect yourself? Thanks to the internet and social media today, it’s easy to cross bad contractors off your list early. Start by adding your inquiry to the data collected by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). They’re a great resource to easily find which contractors in your area have positive ratings, and which to avoid. Additional online resources include:

Friends and neighbors who’ve had work done are also good resources for recommendations. Before you hire anyone, check them out through as many sources as you can. Below are some additional steps you should take before hiring a contractor.

Get your estimates in writing. You’ll want at least three estimates from three different contractors. Make very sure they’re all for the exact same work and for precisely what you want done.

Ask if they’re licensed or registered with any trade associations. Licensing generally means they’ve passed a test or are certified. Registered means they’ve paid a fee. The requirements vary depending on local laws and regulations. But having either can suggest a commitment to good business practices.

Make sure they’re insured and bonded. This protects you if something goes wrong on the job, if they fail to complete the job, or fail to pay for permits or subcontractors.

Check their work and references. Ask if there are any past or current jobs they’re working on where you can review their work. Check their attention to detail. Interview their customers.

Make sure your contractor or subcontractors specialize in the work you want done. Someone who says they have “no problem” doing plumbing, electrical and fine woodwork likely can’t do any of it as well as someone who’s an expert in just one craft.

Know who will actually do the work. If you hire a general contractor who’ll hire subcontractors, ask for their names and check up on them like you did for the general contractor.

What should you watch out for? Getting questioned or experiencing resistance on any of the above. Quality, reputable contractors will be transparent about the process and happy to provide their credentials.

Finally, trust your instincts. Choose someone you feel comfortable being around. Who’s easy to communicate with and who you won’t mind having in your home. Expect a few hiccups and a little stress along the way while your home is disrupted until the project is finished. The more you do before the work starts, the more relaxed you’ll stay until your “new” home is ready.

1In Its 100th Year, Better Business Bureau Breaks All Records for Consumer Services.

2Consumer Federation of America, North American Consumer Protection Investigators, 2014 Consumer Complaint Survey Report, July 29, 2015

  • Jen Pack

    My husband and I are wanting to remodel our home this summer, so I really appreciate this information on how to choose the best contractor. I like how you point out the importance of asking and knowing who will actually do the work. I imagine that in addition to paying attention to these things, it would also be beneficial to pay close attention to how they treat their customers. Thanks for sharing this!

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