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5 Tips for Finding Good Contractors (and a Few for Avoiding Bad Ones)

[Updated: Nov 16, 2020] Dec 13, 2019 by Aly J. Yale
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If you’re in the home-flipping game, your profits are only as good as your contractor choices. Choose wisely, and you add value to your property without eating too much into the budget. Choose wrong, and you might just kiss those returns goodbye.

Unfortunately, as many contractors as are out there, finding a good one isn’t easy. Some won’t show up on time (or at all), others won’t hold to their estimates, and even worse, some just don’t have the skillset or experience they claim to.

Whatever their foibles are, they’ll cost you -- either in time, money, or both.

Want to make sure you choose the best possible contractors from the get-go? Here’s how to do it:

Ask around

Did you like the remodel your neighbor just did? Ask who the contractor was. Have an investor friend? Get his recommendations. Have one contractor you trust, but need others to fill out the crew? Ask your go-to guy for referrals. That doesn’t mean take these as gospel, but use them as a starting point. Interview the recommended contractors, add a few others into the mix, and see what you can come up with.

Get references -- no matter what

Always ask a potential contractor for references. You want to talk to other contractors they’ve worked with, as well as other investors, property owners, etc.

When contacting these references, be sure to ask about:

  • Timeliness -- Were they on time to the job site? Did they complete the job per the agreed-upon schedule?
  • Quality -- How was their work quality? Were there any issues or repairs needed? Can you see the work yourself?
  • Work ethic -- How orderly and clean were they as they worked? Was there attention to detail or did they speed through the process? Did they take lots of breaks or disappear occasionally?

Finally, ask if the person would hire that contractor again, and if so, what types of projects they’d consider them for. If someone else would risk their hard-earned cash to hire them again, they’re probably a safe bet.

Do your first meeting on a job site

Forget interviewing a contractor at Starbucks or your office. Instead, ask to see them in their environment -- on a job site or working on a project. This will ensure that 1) they’re comfortable and at ease during the interview, 2) you can observe how they work, and 3) you can watch them interact with others on their crew. You might even chat with a few of their colleagues while you’re there.

Check their licensing and insurance

If they’re a specialty contractor, they should have a license backing their skills and expertise. Ask for their license number or check with the state licensing board to be extra sure. You can also check with the board for any complaints, disciplinary actions, or, in some cases, even their education history.

You should also be sure the contractor is fully bonded and insured. If they’re not, just one fall (or even a fake fall) could bankrupt your project -- and you. Get the name of their insurance agent and call them up to verify.

Hire them for a test run

Have a fix-and-flip you’re almost done with? Hire a contractor you’re considering for something small -- like a new sink install or repainting some cabinets.

Use the project as a chance to:

  • Gauge their estimating abilities -- How much does the project’s final price compare to what they quoted you?
  • Assess their skills and expertise -- Was the project completed up to your standards?
  • Evaluate their work ethic -- Did they show up on time every time?

Try to keep the trial run under a few hundred dollars until you’re absolutely sure they’re a good fit.

Avoiding bad contractors

You might not find the perfect contractor in your area, or maybe the best one is already busy. If that’s the case, you can at least make sure you avoid the bad ones.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Steer clear of late-comers. Were they late to your initial consult? If they’re late to just talk about a potential job, you can bet they’ll be late once the project kicks off.
  • Conduct a few smart Google searches. Type your contractor’s name into Google along with terms like “bad,” “ripoff,” “scam,” or “lawsuit.” This should put up any negative reviews or legal issues they’ve had.
  • Don’t pay until you inspect the project yourself. Never pay for a project in full up-front. That’s just asking for shoddy work.
  • Be extra observant in the initial stages. Are they slow to respond to your follow-up? Are they dawdling on signing the contract? Is their estimate super vague or are they skirting details? Small issues now might mean big problems down the line.

With anything, it’s important to shop around for contractors. Interview at least a few options, and get estimates from each. Remember though, the cheapest quote isn’t always your best bet (in fact, it usually isn’t), so make sure to consider experience, skillset, work ethic, referrals, and other factors into the equation as well.

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