Evaluating a potential contractor

Think of this process the same way you would if you were hiring someone for an important position at your workplace. You’re going to spend a significant amount of money and/or time (quite possibly both) with this person and their employees. Asking good questions at the beginning will help set the tone and is necessary for any project to go smoothly.

As someone who’s been in the trade for more than 20 years, here are some tips to help you qualify a professional…

contractor 683x1024First, note how punctual they are with your appointment. If they run late, did they reach out to let you know? Were there any missed appointments? These could be an indication that they have an issue with time management or organization, which may give you some insight into how your project might go.

Next, how are they dressed when they arrive? Is it in professional attire or tank top and jeans? I have reviewed many projects at the end of a full workday on my way to an appointment and sometimes I didn’t have time to shower and change. But I make a habit of keeping a clean company polo shirt in the truck… just in case. I’ve noticed that it can reassuring to a homeowner when they find out that I am still hands-on in the field working and honing my craft is a good thing. So, I am not suggesting that clothes “style”should be a factor, but one’s personal presentation can be an indicator of their professionalism. Next, what are they driving? Is it a beat-up or high-end, luxury vehicle (or something in the middle)? This can also give insight into the company.

Once the greetings are over, outline the project—big picture items and goals. If you’re planning to own any of the following tasks, let them know up front:

  • Getting designs and blueprints
  • Obtaining permits
  • Using your own subcontractors (friends and family for electrical or plumbing, etc.)
  • Supplying any materials
  • Doing any of the work yourself

At this initial visit, they should also have a number of questions for you, including the budget question outlined in our last blog. To be honest, most contractors know–within reason– about what a project will cost during our walk through. So keep in mind that if you throw out too low of a number, the may not think you are serious about going through with the project. If you’re yet to decide how much you’re willing to spend on the project, it’s okay to tell us. Most pros can at least give you a benchmark for the next round of interviews.

Did they provide and product recommendations? Contractors are often the driving force behind material selection. We’re typically willing to share our experience with products that have worked well for us in the past and can speak to the cost of those materials. (Hint: e also probably know lead times and availability.)

However, just because they suggest options, doesn’t mean you have to use them. You can always do the homework and choose to specify the items yourself.