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 it helps 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.
Unfortunately, there are several additional 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.
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 projects will eliminate the vast majority of potential problems. Put this verbal communication in writing, and you can protect yourself from unreliable contractors.2. Waiting Until You Need a Contractor
One of the most common homeowner mistakes — waiting until the heater breaks down or major plumbing leaks occur — frequently causes the cost of repair to rise. In fact, not addressing these problems early on can lead to costly replacements in lieu of repairs. 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. And, be sure to 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.3. NOT Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor
Perhaps THE classic blunder! There are a number of different home improvements that present themselves as viable DIY projects, only to morph into money-sucking monsters. Fence building, deck building, exterior house painting and drywall repair can all fit into his category. None of these projects is impossible to do for the right person, but the average homeowner should always lean toward hiring a pro when there is even the slightest doubt.4. Hiring Someone Who Shows Up at Your Front Door
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.5. Hiring Someone to Fix a Problem Without Diagnosing It
This most often comes up in 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 suggests more extensive repairs than are actually necessary. When the repair is hidden — in the roof, for example — this danger is omnipresent. In these circumstances, you might consider hiring an independent inspector to ensure that everything that needs to be fixed is fixed (and that nothing is fixed that was never broken). Perhaps the worst thing you can do is ignore a contractor who identifies and recommends further repair. If a contractor can show or explain why water damage occurred, don't think that you can fix the drywall and worry about the rest later since money is tight.6. Being Enticed by Low/High Bids
You should always be wary of bids that are substantially higher or lower than those of the competition. There may be an explanation — and you should certainly ask. More often than not, lower bids reflect lower standards of service, but higher bids rarely reflect higher standards of service. One explanation for a high bid may be that a contractor is backed up and isn't looking to take on more work unless the profit margin makes it worth it. Just as you would with a suspiciously low bid, ask both the individual contractor and the rest of the bidding contractors why one single bid is so much higher or lower than the others.7. Not Looking Far Enough
It doesn’t matter whether 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 Joe 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.