You’re ready to remodel! Or at least you will be, as soon as the holidays are past. The timing is right, the money is set aside, the need is real. Whether it’s more space, upgrades or improvements, or dealing with long overdue repairs and maintenance, you have work to do.
All you need is a contractor. A good one.
While it sounds easy enough, the prevalence of online services that offer to help you find a contractor leads me to believe that many people don’t know where to begin. Here are the top ten tactics I would suggest for finding a good contractor. These are based on a lifetime in the business, not only as a contractor being hired, but as a person who hires contractors all the time.
1. Your Existing Network
An existing local network of friends, neighbors, relatives, and contacts is absolutely the best source for a good reputable contractors name and number. Even if you’re not involved in many groups such as churches, social and service organizations, and business groups, you still have a larger network than you realize. Simply asking around is a great place to start. Something like, “Hey, I’m thinking of doing some electrical work over at the house and I need a good electrician, do you know of any?” is all it takes. If you happen to be going to a doctor or a lawyer, ask them…they all know good contractors.
Talking to someone you know, even just casually, about the experience they had with a contractor will really give you more insight into that company than anything else. This is especially true when you find the customer rather than the contractor giving you his best referral.
2. Drive Your Neighborhood
While I was asking anyone who would listen, I’d also look around my neighborhood. If you live in a compact enough neighborhood, you might want to walk or ride your bike. The idea is to keep your eyes peeled for work going on. Sometimes you need to look closely because not all contractors put job-signs out front. If you’re on foot or pedaling, you’ll find it much easier to slow down and really look at the work, you might even get lucky and meet the owner and/or contractor while your at it.
The best outcome of this is that you will meet a contractor that feels right to you, and then that contractor will be able to give you a list of a number of other jobs he’s done in within a few miles radius (adjust for rural or high-density urban). If a contractor has numerous jobs within a small area then you can be somewhat assured that the company is reputable.
3. An Architect or Designer
Architects, Residential Designers, Interior Designers, and Decorators are all in the business of home improvement and their success depends upon them knowing people who can accomplish what they dream up! They all know contractors and it can be worth the cost of hiring them to find out what and who they know.
A word of caution though… always be careful if the person or company giving you advice has any potential to profit from that advice. Any of the above professionals may have an established arrangement with contractors who pay them a referral fee or other type of commission or compensation in return for the lead. This isn’t uncommon, but it is a point of some discussion in the professional world.
Your best bet is just to ask flat-out if you’re in doubt. You need to know and most people will answer honestly if asked directly.
4. Local Suppliers of Materials
If you don’t have a great network of local contacts, or those efforts just aren’t panning out, I think this option is one of my personal favorites. Simply put, this works.
Find out who the local suppliers are for the material that your work will require. If you’re doing a painting job, then it will be a local paint store. If you’re building a house or a room addition, look for a building materials supplier, the best bet would be a locally owned lumberyard. Locally owned and managed businesses offer a little bit of advantage because you’re more likely to encounter the owner of the business who will not only know who the contractors are, but how well they pay their bills.
It can be a little awkward at first, you might even want to buy something little to get the conversation started, but these guys know who does a lot of work, who does good work, who does both.
5. Local and National Builders Associations
While I’m sure there are other organizations, the largest organization for building contractors is the National Association of Home Builders, or the NAHB. The national association is broken down into local chapters.
You can find these local chapters at the national website and they are a great source for reputable local contractors. Although I’ve rarely taken the time myself to get involved in these associations, I’ve noticed that those contractors who were in leadership roles were generally quite good at the work they did. So, based on my experience, the fact that a contractor is in a leadership role in a local Builders Association probably means that they are good contractors, another contractor’s complete lack of involvement or even membership would not necessarily indicate any fault.
6. National Specialty Associations
This resource is essentially the same as the NAHB, except that it will include more specialized trades. Here are a few specialty associations that might be of help to you in finding a contractor:
All of these associations have local chapters and good advice on their respective websites about the process of hiring a contractor for that specific trade. These are good resources and a good place to find the names of reputable companies in your area.
7. Local Contractors Websites
It’s worth the effort to weed through search engine results in order to find direct links to local companies. Most companies websites will give you a feel for the company and the services it can provide. If you get a website from a job sign or vehicle sign, then you might use the website to decide if you want to make an appointment or not.
While I’ve mentioned in the past that I have my doubts about getting the very best contractors through online contractor placement services such as CalFinder, I do think that they can be one place to look among many others. It’s just important that you go beyond what you find on the internet, whether it be directly from the contractor’s website, or from a referral service. (btw… CalFinder does have a great remodeling blog, that you might enjoy reading)
8. Local Business Publications
Many local business publications have searchable websites. Companies such as American City Business Journals have publications nationwide that regularly feature locally respected and well known businesses. You can use the search feature on the page to search keywords, such as “remodeling contractor”.
These searches will go years back and that’s good for you. Isn’t it comforting to read an article from seven years ago about a contractor, then call that contractor and find she is still in the same line of work at the same location as she was when they wrote the article? (I always say “He” just based on percentages, but there are a growing number of women in construction who are showing the boys how it’s done!)
9. Local Newspapers
Similar to the above in many respects. But the other big feature in local newspapers is the good old fashioned advertisement. If I can’t get a referral and I’m going to meet with a contractor cold, I would much rather it be from an advertisement in a local publicationthat the contractor has possibly designed himself, or at least approved himself. It’s likely that ad will tell me what I need to know…what does this company do? Where are they located? How long have they been in business? Do they have any special offers right now? Does the ad present a professional front for the company?
10. Other Local Advertising
Local advertising also takes on many other forms. From direct mail circulars (a local one is called “The Flyer”) to bus-stop benches, there are ads for contractors all over the place if you look for them.
These resources shouldn’t be discounted out-of-hand! Many very good contractors are what you might call “old school” and they use tried-and-true advertising methods. It’s usually easy to tell which companies are playing a numbers game just trying to blow through thousands of leads, versus those who are good solid relationship oriented businesses that you want to work with.
You’ll notice that nine out of ten of these are local sources. I clearly am of the opinion that local sources for contractor referrals are best by far.
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the building department. The problem there isn’t that the building inspector doesn’t know who the best is…he does. But he isn’t allowed to tell you and he certainly can’t tell you who not to call, so they usually can’t give you much. Get one to talk, though, and you’ll learn everything you need right there.
I think I have this list generally in the order I would approach it, so you may never need to ride around getting numbers off of bus-stop benches. That’s good because you really want a referral, someone to voluntarily say “ABC Remodelers does a great job, you should call them.” That’s what you want to hear and you need at least a couple of those, hopefully a few more.
Great contractors are out there, and now you know how to find them!