As we head into the process of interviewing and hiring a builder/contractor, I couldn't help but wish we could avoid this step. We all want to hire the best people, whether for our business or for projects around the house. Even hiring the neighborhood kid to mow your lawn still comes with its challenges. Do kids even DO work like that anymore or are they all just far too glued to their phones? And yes, I can hear myself yelling, "Get off my lawn!" Let's dig in a bit on hiring an awesome (insert title here) to accomplish (insert job here) and ensure that you have the best experience possible.
There's a common thread throughout the majority of contractor-based jobs. That is the challenge of finding a qualified, trustworthy, capable contractor to do the work. The number of qualified professional contractors in Northern New England is not at all comparable to the numbers they maintain in the larger cities and towns.
So what’s a homeowner to do? Do you roll the dice and pick a name from the phonebook or web search? Do you rely on friends and family to provide recommendations? Is Angie's List (or Angi.com as it is now know as) really trustworthy? Perhaps the devil you know really is better than the devil you don’t. I think the answer lies somewhere in the midst of all those choices.
The risk in hiring a contractor is directly related to how involved you’re going to be (or are able to be) involved in the project. If this is a repair or upgrade to your vacation home in the White Mountains and you have no way of being present while the work is being done, the risk is far greater. In these situations the referrals of friends, family or trusted advisors become critical.
Inevitably someone you know will have either worked with the potential contractor, or at least know someone that has had an experience with them. This first-hand knowledge about the person or company from a person with no ulterior motive or vested interest in the project is literally priceless.
Working in real estate for a number of years now, I’ve learned a fair amount about the local contractors and the quality of work they produce. I can say with confidence that what we may lack in quantity of companies and workers, we handily make up in quality.
I am often asked for referrals and recommendations and I’m always happy to provide my two cents. I’m happy to provide honest and straightforward feedback, as it does me no good to embellish the truth.
At the end of the day, the person having the work done is going to remember that it was me that provided that referral. I want to ensure they are taken care of and will trust me with other recommendations in the future.
If the repair or remodel is being done to your year-round home, the stakes are not quite as high. Of course you are still inviting someone into your home to provide a service, but at least you have the option of being there. I know from past jobs in the service industry, there is nothing worse than having your customer looking over your shoulder while you perform your task (I don’t know how those folks at Subway do it).
That said, from the other side of the counter, there is no better way to ensure that the work is being done to your liking. For anyone who has been through the construction of a new home, this is no secret. How many of you would have liked to be a fly on the wall during the entire home-building process?
So what do you look for? The obvious ones are, well, obvious. You want the person to have a reputation for honesty and fair-dealings with their past clients.
"There are always bumps along the road and no one business is ever going to make all of their customers happy," Badger Realty agent Nubian Duncan said. "But a general reputation for “good business” is key."
And even if they are honest in what they do, they still need to be able to do it effectively. I don’t care if the guy’s nickname is Honest-Abe. If he can’t hang a window straight or keep a roof from leaking, I’ll have little use for his services.
Right along with honesty and skill is humility. I am always impressed when a contractor or service provider is upfront and honest with me about what they can and, more important, cannot do.
Don’t be afraid to hire two different people for different parts of a project. If worker “A” is great at framing and sheetrock and worker “B” is an expert at painting, hire them both. You will get a better finished product and will have utilized the best person for each respective job. It is without a doubt going to be more work for you, but you will be more satisfied in the end.
“Timing is everything.” Contractors, literally the world over, have developed a bit of a reputation for being behind schedule. I firmly believe it is because they are simply too busy, but this is where communication steps in and eliminates the “issue” of being late.
If a plumber is always finding himself behind schedule, but takes the 30 seconds or so to call the next appointment and let them know, they will certainly appreciate it. I promise you, that plumber will never be thought of as “late” or worse, “disrespectful” because they are showing respect for the time of the customer. That must be why mom always said: “Call if you’re going to be late.”
Lastly, there is always some wiggle room. You will likely never find that perfect contractor for your project. And you will always find someone that will say something negative about that person. Heck, some people don't like cookie dough ice cream, but that doesn't change my opinion of it.
At the end of the day, I believe you need to go with your gut and just try to get “most” of what you want. If he or she is trustworthy and has a reputation for the skill-set you are looking for, chances are you will have a good experience and now you have added someone to your list of recommendable contractors. So go ahead and hire ‘em. You might even get to know ‘em.