How To: Hire a Contractor

Disclaimer-Captain DIY and highly recommend exercising extreme caution when attempting DIY projects. Not everybody can do everything, and some things should only be done by professionals. Keep your digits attached, and keep the insurance company off of your back. Do it right or call the right people!

Alright, I realize this is a DIY blog, and I am breaking that sacred bond by suggesting you hire someone to do your work for you. Sometimes we find ourselves facing a problem that is just plain out of our league, however, and it is important when to know it is time to call in a professional.

That can be an intimidating prospect. Having to find a stranger and implicitly trust them to come into your house, maybe even while you’re not there, is a huge deal. Never fear, Captain DIY is here to help. Having been that contractor for the past decade or so, I have learned what makes people happy and what makes contractors not scary.

First of all, ask around. If you know anyone who has had any work done, ask them who they used and whether or not it worked out. If you don’t know anyone, search for a Facebook group of people who have worked with contractors. If there is a name that keeps popping up, chances are they do pretty good work and don’t rip people off.

Don’t be afraid to call contractors and ask them about their price, what they think the solution to the problem might be, what kind of insurance they have, etc. If they aren’t willing to talk to you on the phone, they probably aren’t willing to explain what they’re doing at your house. Not a good sign.

Listen to your gut. Your natural instinct about someone is an incredible resource. If someone gives you a bad feeling, don’t use them. It’s far better to risk offending someone than it is having them destroy your house with shoddy work, or worse, steal something from you. First impressions are powerful, be sure to listen to yours.

Looks can be deceiving, but with contractors they often aren’t. If the person you called shows up late afternoon shiny clean with tools that look brand new, there is a chance they are brand new themselves, and could be fresh out of trade school. Not necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind. If they show up first thing in the morning and they are disheveled, possibly homeless, and smell like they slept in your garbage can, they probably did. If they are doing rough work like framing or drywall, there probably won’t be a problem. If they came to do finish work like trim or install a countertop, maybe reconsider their position in your project.

If the contractor has put in the effort to look presentable, has a friendly manner and a good handshake, and is able to look you in the eye when they give you a price, things are looking good. If they are in fairly decent shape, even better. It may seem superficial, but if they care enough to take care of themselves, they might just care enough to take pride in their work. They don’t have to be bodybuilders, but if they have to suck it in to fit through your doorway they probably shouldn’t be climbing a ladder to install your new electrical service.

Okay, now that we have found someone who looks decent, has a firm handshake and doesn’t look guilty when they name a price, time to make sure they are actually legit. They should be more than willing to present you with an insurance cover letter, a license to do the work if it is required in your state, and any other paperwork that may go along with their trade. If they are hesitant about showing you any of these things, take that as a red flag. Be sure, however, to ask for these things in advance as they may not carry an insurance cover letter around with them. In my ten-ish years of working in people’s houses I have been asked once, that’s right once, for proof of insurance. It was not offensive to me, in fact it was refreshing to see that someone cared about the quality of contractor they hired.

We’re almost done, now! We have found someone, preferably someone who was recommended by a friend, who carries themselves well and has a comparable hourly price to the market. Now that they are at your house, be sure to give them as clear and concise an explanation of the issue as possible, and if you can, try to be available for questions without getting in the way. Remember, if you feel good about them and you want them to be trustworthy, give them the opportunity to be so. Following them around and breathing down their neck will only make them distracted, and may lead to shoddy, rushed work. Let them do their job, and if there is any reason for dissatisfaction when they are done you can call them on it at the end.

Time for the money, baby! They have done the job, everyone is happy, now they hit you with the bill. If it’s a larger job, the standard billing procedure is to give them a 50% deposit at the beginning and pay the remainder when the job is done. If it’s a smaller job, something that takes a day or less, you can expect the job to be done and billing to follow immediately after. Some contractors may be willing to give a small discount if you pay with cash, others may not. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

If you thought they did a good job, let them know. They will appreciate the positive feedback, and it will help solidify the relationship in case you need them at some point in the future. If they didn’t, let your friends know so they don’t make the same mistake you did!

An additional note: If you can, hire a smaller outfit rather than a large chain. The smaller guys will care more about customer service, and you’ll be helping out your neighbors by keeping them in business. The only downside with going to small can be getting them for an emergency fix. If you call Joe’s Plumbing and Heating and Joe answers the call on his cell phone, you can bet you’ll get Joe every time you call. But when your boiler craps out on a Sunday night during the biggest snowstorm of the year and you call Joe and get his answering machine because he’s visiting his brother in Arizona, you’re out of luck. If you find a reputable family-run company that has five or six people on the crew, hang on to their phone number.

There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Hopefully you won’t need to do that again anytime soon, since you and I are learning all of these cool skills to keep our stuff working properly, but if you do you’ll know that you can confidently find the right person for the job. And with all of the skills we are gaining, we can use our newfound knowledge to properly explain any issues that are out of our league. At least, until we bring ourselves into that league.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 11.02.00 AM
At least he has a sense of humor

9 thoughts on “How To: Hire a Contractor

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