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How to Choose a GOOD Contractor

By: Brad Wiegand on January 4th, 2012

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How to Choose a GOOD Contractor

Choosing a Contractor


contractor working closly with the customerSo you've made the decision that this is the year that you're going to invest in that new patio, outdoor kitchen, landscape lighting system, outdoor fireplace, etc.  You've maybe even decided where the new feature is going to be located. Now you have to choose a contractor... You've done a little research, Angie's List, Google, Better Business Bureau, Service Magic or wherever you choose, but what sets one contractor apart from another?

The biggest thing you want to accomplish is to have your contractor earn your trust.  Trust is a very fragile thing in that it is not very easily earned, yet very easily lost.  There are really two traits that a contractor should show while earning your trust.

1. Character- qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity, reputation. (reference from Dictionary.com)

2. Credibility - Do they know what they're talking about?

I have compiled a list of questions that I think every homeowner should ask any contractor before they 'sign on the dotted line'.  Remember it's your hard earned money that you're spending.  Mistakes can be very costly!


1. How many _____ have you installed? 

Is this their first rodeo or have they been at this a while?

2. Do they have a physical place of business?

Is there a place you can stop in during regular business hours for questions you may have, or to take a look at a product sample?  Is there a live person at the end of the phone line when you have a question or concern, or do you just get a voicemail?  Are they operating out of their basement where they could potentially disappear in a matter of weeks or days?

3. Do they own their own equipment?

Again a good indicator that they are an established company and are going to be there when you need them again.

4. Do they rely heavily on sub-contractors?

Even the best of companies somewhat rely on expertise that they do not personally possess.  However, the biggest question is: what percentage of the work subbed out, and how personally is the contractor involved with the supervision and process as a whole?

5. Do they understand your ideas?

This is a great time to collaborate on ideas.  You have had time to think and re-think your project, and this is quite possibly the first time your contractor has laid eyes on it.  Ask him or her if they have any thoughts or other ideas.  Are they creative?  Do they see your points of view?  Do they understand your needs and wants?  If not, you may be just wasting your time and want to keep looking. 

6. Did they give you a reference list?

When you ask them for this, watch to see if they get the 'deer in the headlights' look.  They should have this readily available either in printed format or online.   If I was spending my money, I would want to see a bunch of people (more than just 5 or 10) that I could contact for referrals. Realistically, anyone can please 5 or 10 out of 100...

7. Are they licensed and insured?

What happens if they're not?  You don't want to know.  Just make sure that you have a really good homeowner's policy.

8. Do they stand behind their work?

We have a little catch phrase in our industry that always amuses me when I hear it, but in reality, it's not amusing at all.  It's called the 'tail light guarantee'.  Basically your project is warrentied until you see the last of their tail lights heading down the road.  What may sound like a humorous pun could turn out to be your worst nightmare.  Do your research.  Be Careful!

9. Go with your gut!

How many times have you gotten to the end (or in the middle) of a project and said: Man, I really wish I had gone with my gut on this one.  You were given intuition for a reason, use it. Remember, there are a lot of really great contractors out there.  Your job is to find them.

No contractor is perfect, we all make mistakes - it is how each one handles those mistakes that sets them apart from the rest of the competition that makes the difference.



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