Common Question Series: #3 How Do We Find Reliable Contractors to Work With?
One of the best things I've ever done was to tell Bryndee we should do the work on our first home ourselves. We had just bought an old duplex that was super run down and heavily smoked in. We had about 3 weeks to completely renovate both units before both us and our new tenants were set to move in. It was going to be "easy," all we had to do was rip out and replace the old carpet, paint both sides, redo the kitchen and bathrooms, and install new laminate flooring. Seemed doable at the time…. But it wasn’t quite that easy, at least for us. :)
We were both working full time so we would work on the house early mornings, late into the night, and on the weekends. We were tired, exhausted, and plugging along when it came time to do the painting. We had to put a heavy primer on all the walls and floors that worked as a sealant to get rid of the smoke smell. We rented a paint sprayer from Home Depot and sure enough, before long that thing jammed. I was trying to fix it but was unsuccessful, so Bryndee came over to help. While she was checking out the spray gun I decided to test it to see if she fixed it, and stupid me, I didn’t realize the sprayer was pointed right at her face. Before I knew it I was getting punched by my screaming wife who now had this heavy primer all in her eye. I was sure she was blind and knew I really messed that up. Lucky for both of us, we were able to wash it out without any permanent damage- other than the emotional scars I still have from being yelled at when all I was trying to do was help!
As angry as Bryndee was, and as scared for my life as I was, we tried to document me spraying her with a heavy primer right in the eye. I know it's super blurry and this is after she washed her face but if you look close you can see the white primer on the left side of her face, and my face questioning how I was ever going to redeem myself.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. After a few days of the painting taking way long than expected, I was trying to make things up to Bryn and spent some extra time at the house one morning trying to finish up the paint job. I enlisted some help from my “nonprofessional” friends and we busted things out. We worked hard through the morning and completely finished painting the house, hallelujah! I had to run to work but I couldn’t wait for Bryndee to go over and see the surprise. After work that day I went straight over to the duplex knowing Bryndee would be there and couldn’t wait for the smiles and praise she would give me for doing such a good job. Wrong… instead I found a wife in tears with a paintbrush in her hand trying to fix the bad job I had done. Now that the paint was dry I could see uneven paint lines everywhere, I didn’t tape the window frames properly so I got paint on the frames and the windows themselves (yes I was that bad), and I found out we basically had to go back over everything again. Once again, my wife was in tears and I felt like I had just ruined the whole project (which I guess is kind of true).
In the end we finished the project and since it all worked out well I claim it to be one of my more proud moments. As a result of all this I have now been banned from ever picking up a paintbrush (or spray gun) in one of our houses again, and for that matter Bryn barely even trusts me to swing a hammer anymore. So when I say this was the best thing I ever did, it’s because I got myself out of a whole lot of future work!
Through this experience we both agree 100% that it’s worth it to pay a professional contractor to get the job done right, especially if we ever want to sell any of the homes we work on. We’ve since had the chance to work with multiple contractors, and we often get asked how we filter through to find a good, reliable one? Here are a few best practices we use when searching for a contractor, hopefully some of this will help in your search as well.
Start with an Internet Search
This seems simple enough, but it actually works. Now days Google makes it so easy to not only find people, but we can also read up on all their reviews. We have learned these reviews may be a little biased based off a good or bad experience, but they hold at least a little credibility.
Another place to look online is at homeadvisor.com. This website allows you to search for particular contractors in your area specific for the project you are working on. All of the contractors recommended on this site have been vetted to ensure they are legitimate contractors so it gives us a peace of mind knowing that they have been through some sort of screening process.
What the heck is REIA? It stands for Real Estate Investors Association and is a group where all types of people in the real estate industry attend to network and improve their business. I could make a whole post about utilizing different groups like this to boost your real estate goals, but suffice it to say you will find lenders, wholesalers, agents, experienced mentors willing to offer advice, and yes, even contractors. Do a google search to find your local REIA, or click here for a link to their national website. Don’t be afraid to get involved (they usually let you attend the first meeting for free then you can join after that, but it’s definitely worth the small price to join these groups). Go to the meetings and introduce yourself to some contractors and ask other investors for recommendations.
Home Repair Stores
Another ninja trick we have used is to talk to people you come across at your local Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, or other home repair store. If you want to find a good contractor, you have to go where they hang out, supply stores! Look for people who look like they might be headed to a job site and ask if they are a contractor and open to more work. If you want to be really effective, go early in the morning because that is when contractors are picking up their supplies for the day and you are more likely to run into more contractors as opposed to casual home owners.
If you want a good, reliable contractor in your area this may be your best resource. Think about it, if a contractor is at one of these stores at 6:30 in the morning, that means they are actively working on a job (or jobs), they are responsible because they are up and running early (you’d be surprised how many contractors find excuses to start late or don’t show up at all), and they are currently being paid by someone else to do a job (which means their quality of work is good enough for at least one other person to trust them). All of these little things add up to give us a little bit of insight on the type of worker they might be, so go ahead, put yourself out there and tell them who you are, what you are working on, and if they are open to more work.
Ok now that you have a few places to find a contractor, what do you do when you think you found a good one?
Regardless of where you find someone or how highly they may have come recommended, always take the time to interview them. This allows you to not only allow you to set your expectations, but gives you an opportunity to find out about their personal experience as well. Ask them how long they’ve been doing this work, what areas of expertise they have, their ability to find subcontractors, how they manage timelines, etc.
ALWAYS ask for references of past clients and call those clients to ask about their quality of work, timeliness, and sticking to the budget. Ask your contractor to provide you with pictures of their work, or even better, if they are working on a project ask if you can go see what they are working on.
Lastly, when vetting your contractors, you should always ask if they are licensed and insured. If you are working with a general contractor they should have a General Contractor’s License. If they are a sub, they should be licensed in their particular area of expertise- these licenses allow them to pull permits and help ensure your project will be done up to code.
Insurance is equally important. If they, or one of their subs, gets injured, you want to make sure that their insurance will cover all of the medical and liability expenses. Of course we have insurance as well to cover us just in case, but they should always have valid insurance. Asking a contractor for their license and insurance information is very standard in the industry so don’t hesitate to ask about it and request them to show you copies of their info. If they resist providing this information, simply move on to the next one.
We have been lucky to build relationships with some wonderful contractors over the years and acknowledge we wouldn’t be able to do this work without them. We’ve found that if you take the time to ask the right questions upfront and vet them properly, it can save you headaches down the road. Keep in mind that after interviewing someone that may be very qualified, they may not be the best fit for you for a variety of reasons. If that happens it’s okay. That’s what this process is for. Keep looking, keep reaching out to people, and surround yourself with individuals you know will be a good fit for what you’re looking for.
And if you decide that you’d rather do all the work yourself, remember to not point the paint gun in anyone’s eye, it won’t end pretty for anyone.