Super contractors are plentiful and easy to find when you approach the due diligence process with purpose and foresight. The largest ad in the phone book (print or digital), great website, handsome smile, or the cheapest price tell you nothing. Builders, remodelers, and trade contractors will work on your most valuable asset and prized possession – your home. More importantly, they will become your go-to expert and most trusted advisor in their area of specialty. So, how do you find the absolute best craftsmen, most trustworthy business, and all-around SUPER contractor?
Start at the Very Beginning – A Very Good Place to Start
Professional trade organizations, like your local Home Builders Association (HBA), are the best places to begin your search. The criteria for membership in these associations are stringent; therefore, only the most professional and ethical companies become members. What's more, education & continuous improvement are in the members' blood. They know about the latest building materials & gizmos on the market, understand permitting & inspections, and know the difference between a contract, change order, and punch list (and why each legally protects both of you during the course of your project while keeping communication lines open).
There are many additional professional trade associations for specialty contractors that can also be used to aid in your search. Though the best-of-the-best excavators, plumbers, roofers, landscapers, etc. make it a point of joining their local HBA, they often are members of their specialty trade association as well to gain knowledge specific to their trade.
A quick web search for the area you are researching followed by the words “trade association” is a great place to start. Thus, when looking for a kitchen designer, a web search for “kitchen trade association” will reveal the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). Similarly, a search for “Electrician Trade Association” will land you at the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC).
Is Bigger Better or Does Smaller Surpass?
Contractors do not become the best in the business because they have a bunch of employees, advertises all-the-time, or “have done 10 projects in your neighborhood.” Conversely, smaller companies are not faster to respond and more focused on your needs because they have less customers to serve. Good large companies and good small companies both have their pros and cons. You likely have a natural disposition toward one over the other. The best business comes in all sizes, just like the best contractors. Look for those who herald continuous improvement through education, training, and networking.
Let their credentials, experience, and expertise be your guide, not the size of their company. Gravitate toward those contractors that are certified experts by outside trade associations or agencies. Consider more seriously those contractors that regularly attend trade shows and conventions in their industry. Education is paramount. Would you want a teacher teaching your children if she had never been to school herself? Or, and accountant without an accounting degree and the letters CPA (Certified Public Accountant) after his name advising you on your finances? Contractors have certifications, designations, and education as well.
Does this mean you should only consider those with letters after their names and education under their belt? Absolutely not! Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all ran / run incredibly successful businesses without completing their education. They, however, are the exception, not the norm. Give education weight in your decision-making process.
How Do You Interview the Candidates?
Treat your research seriously and prepare for the process. After you build a list of potential contractor candidates, spend time organizing your thoughts & preparing your questions before meeting with the first contractor candidate. At each interview, observe how each candidate reacts and responds. Don't be afraid to take notes.
Some suggestions to get you thinking:
- When you discuss what you'd like to do, does the contractor show enthusiasm for your ideas and suggest ways to make them work better?
- Is customer service emphasized?
- Will they work within your budget constraints? Will they be honest when your budget is way less than the project will require?
- Do they seem organized when you discuss the job with them?
- Are their business materials neat, professional, and complete (business cards, flyers, website, etc.)?
- Do they carry insurance to protect you from claims arising from property damage or job site injuries (get a copy of their insurance certificate, don't just ask the question)?
- Do they offer a warranty?
- Will they arrange for the construction permit?
- Do they specialize in particular types of projects?
How to Decide?
Your budget for the project is probably too small. It is rare that home and business owners over-budget their building or remodeling plans. In fact, is it common to find that the investment you think the project is going to cost is as much as half the actual cost. If you truly have no idea of the project cost, maybe you are planning to “get three quotations and pick the lowest.”
If you can't afford to do it right, how can you afford to do it over?
Your judgement is probably sound – use it. The temptation to choose the lowest bid is strong. But, often the lowest bidder is the one who made the biggest mistake when preparing the bid for your project. That begs two questions: (1) where are they going to make it up? and (2) what other mistakes will they make on your project?
DO NOT CHOOSE LOW BID simply because it is the lowest price! Choose your contractor based on trade experience, customer service, skills, and how they communicate with you during the bid process; not because they have the lowest price.
Contracting is not a product. Hiring a contractor is buying a service and expertise. The customer service the contractor provides during the interview and bid process, or lack there of it, is likely to be the same customer service they will practice during the entire job if you hire their company. Therefore, choose a contractor that communicates clearly, treats your job as if it will be their masterpiece, and runs their business soundly.
This is not a decision that should be solely based on whom you “like” the most or whom was the “nicest” or had the “best personality.” However, you will be working with the contractor and their team for an extended period of time; so, how you emotionally feel about them should have some weight in your decision-making process. Use your emotions, use your gut… just make sure your research and intellect have a bigger say in your final decision.
If you put as much time, or more, into selecting a contractor as you did in selecting & planning your last vacation or in choosing if and where you or your children should go to college, you'll make a good decision in the end. Plan for it. Spend time on it. Debate it out with your loved ones. Then trust yourself that you made the right the decision. Moreover, trust your contractor and their expert advice.