If your household is a company, then you’re the boss, and your house is the factory. While you might explain to your children the “rules of living under your roof,” you’re never more the boss than when something goes wrong with that roof or any number of structures and furnishings underneath it. Along with being the boss, you’re likely to double as personnel director for your home. When the time comes to hire someone who will take care of your home repairs, the decision is yours.
As a homeowner, you should know the basics of finding a home improvement contractor remain constant. Get multiple estimates and talk to previous customers of all the contractors you’re considering. It’s amazing how often homeowners fail to take even these standard precautions and help explain why complaints against home improvement contractors consistently rank near the top of all consumer complaints, whether you talk to the Better Business Bureau, the Bureau of Consumer Protection, or any number of agencies that track consumer satisfaction ratings. We are not saying BBB is the end all – be all, but do your due diligence.
Unfortunately, there are several other mistakes you can make between the preliminary search and final hiring of your home improvement contractor. Of course, no criteria is foolproof, no matter how selective, but by avoiding these common pitfalls, you’re more likely to make a wise hiring decision and maintain your position as company head of the family.
Open communication is the golden rule of dealing with home improvement contractors. As long as you find a reasonably honest person, asking straightforward questions and clearly delineating what you want and expect from your home improvements and repairs will eliminate the vast majority of problems that can arise. Put this verbal communication in writing, and you can protect yourself from unreliable contractors.
What has to be the single most common mistake homeowners make, waiting until things fail (things like heating and air conditioning, roofing and plumbing leaks) frequently causes the cost of repair to rise. Worse yet, the immediate need to fix these items can block your ability to have them replaced, instead of repaired. Spending $500 on a 20-year-old heating system is not a good investment, but it can take a week or more to find and install the right replacement heating system. As soon as you see signs of trouble, get someone out to your home for a look. Don’t ignore a wet spot on your ceiling. Run your heating and air conditioning for an hour during the off-season. Much like a CEO, you should be concerned with the long-term financial status of your home.
Perhaps the classic blunder, there are a number of different home improvements that appear to be viable DIY projects, only to morph into monsters that are more expensive than simply hiring a pro from the outset. Fence building, deck building, exterior house painting, and drywall repair can all fit into his category. None of these projects are impossible to do for the right person, but the average homeowner should always lean toward hiring a pro when there is the slightest doubt of your ability.
This one is simple. Never hire someone who comes to your door. This is a classic move of scam artists. It doesn’t matter what they say, whether they claim to have leftover materials from a nearby project, offer a free roof inspection, or any number of promotions, gimmicks, or pitches. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody who comes to your door is trying to pull a fast one on you, but there is simply too good a chance. Depending on what your gut tells you, respectfully ask for a business card and look the company up, or call your neighbors and the local chapter of your Better Business Bureau to report suspicious behavior.
It can’t happen with anything, but most often, this comes up with drywall and roofing. Don’t hire someone to patch a hole or leak without addressing pre-existing water damage that can quickly destroy the repair work and possibly endanger the safety of your home. The flipside of this is the contractor who pretends more extensive repairs are needed than actually exist. Where the repair is hidden, such as common roofing work, this danger is omni-present. In these circumstances, you might consider hiring an independent inspector to ensure that everything is fixed that needs to be fixed, and nothing is fixed that was never broken. Perhaps, the worst thing you can do is to ignore a contractor who identifies and recommends further repair. If a contractor can show or explain why water damage occurred, don’t say or think that since money is tight, you can fix the drywall and worry about the rest later.
You should always be wary of bids that are substantially higher or lower than the competition. There may be an explanation and you should certainly ask, but more often than not, lower bids reflect lower standards of service. Alternately, make sure each bid accounts for the exact same installation and features. On the other hand, higher bids rarely reflect higher standards of service. It may be as simple as price-gouging. Another explanation might be a contractor whose schedule is backed up and isn’t looking for more work, unless the profit margin is high enough. Just as with a suspiciously low bid, ask both the individual contractor and the rest of the bidding contractors why this single bid is so much higher or lower than the others.
It doesn’t matter if you live in a city or in a more rural area, don’t think you need to focus on hyper-local contractors. Most home improvement contractors service multiple counties. You may feel like Tom down the street is the best or only answer, but by searching surrounding areas, you may be surprised by the number of contractors who are willing to travel and provide bids, especially for larger projects. For smaller projects, such as window washing, you should talk to neighbors and see if you can hire one person for your whole neighborhood.
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