Hiring Contractors: The Basics
Roofers. Landscapers. Interior designers. At some point in your adult life, it's overwhelmingly likely that you'll need to hire a contractor to perform some service at your home or business. Whether it's something as simple as taking out a tree or as complex as installing a full security system, you can bet that somebody out there is equipped with the tools and the know-how to do it the right way. Trust me when I say that some things are simply beyond the scope of even the most capable "DIYer."
So when the need does arise, how do you make sure that you're making a sound investment? How can you be certain that the contractor you're hiring is qualified, competent, and legitimate?
Well, the short answer is that there's really no completely foolproof way to hire a contractor. That's the bad news. The good news is that there are measures that you can (and should!) take to minimize the odds of getting taken for a ride or ending up with a bad end result. And what are those measures, you ask?
Go local! Hiring a local contractor is a good idea for a variety of reasons. First, the local guy or gal is a member of your community. His or her reputation is at stake in a much more tangible way than the big outfit that you see on billboards and commercials, and as a result he or she will be much more incentivized to deliver an expedient and high-quality product. Local contractors are often much easier to stay in touch with; and to be honest, a lot of the bigger players are just going to sub your job out to a local crew, anyway. By hiring local, you cut out the middle man and save yourself a few bucks in the process.
Vet thoroughly! This is a lot easier now that we have Google, Yelp, and Facebook all offering their own comprehensive review platforms, but it's still important to carefully look into whoever you end up hiring. Best practices will include finding your contractor by word-of-mouth; either from a family, friend, or neighbor, or at the very least through a service like Nextdoor. Once you've identified your candidates, check out their online reviews. Be wary; some folks have been known to make fake reviews! Read the wording carefully to make sure that the same person didn't write all of them. Finally, check the Better Business Bureau for complaints. If you're really thorough, you can even call an attorney or private investigator to look into any prior lawsuits or judgments against your chosen candidate.
Insist on a written contract. Handshake agreements are great until things go sideways and the parties can't agree on what the terms of the contract were. Written agreements are an absolute no-brainer when you're talking about any kind of services provided. If your contractor won't agree to reduce your contract to writing, this should be a non-starter and my advice is to find someone else.
Don't pay in advance, and if you have to, use a credit card. I cannot stress this enough. Once that money changes hands, it is very, very difficult to get it back. You can go and file a lawsuit, get a judgment, get the Attorney General's office involved, fly to the moon and back, and take whatever other measures you feel are appropriate, but getting your money back is almost always going to be an exercise in frustration and/or futility. For that reason you shouldn't pay in advance unless the contractor absolutely insists on it, and gives you a compelling reason for his or her insistence. If you do have to pay in advance, don't ever use a debit card, check, or cash to pay. You should only ever use a credit card; that way, you can dispute the charges and often get your money refunded without having to resort to more time-consuming and expensive measures.
I've had more conversations than I can count with folks who have been burned by bad actors. By following the advice listed above, you can really tip the odds in your favor that your hire will be honest and competent, and more importantly, that your money will be well spent. Let me know if you have questions!