Hiring a Contractor Checklist: 6 Tips to the Perfect Fit
The perfect fit is unique to everyone
In the middle of workplace small talk, I once stumbled over a gem. A co-worker was telling me how a Saturday night date had gone. Nice guy, she said, but they just couldn’t get started.
What she said next summed up dating perfectly: “I’m ok, you’re ok, why aren’t we ok together?” What she said stuck with me. That’s because it applies well outside the dating arena, too. If you search long enough for anything, it’s tough to keep up hope.
What does all this dating talk have to do with contractors? Not every contractor is a good fit for everyone. Even if the contractor’s great, and you’re great, you may not be great together.
So how do you find the right fit? It all comes down to how you define value. Sync that up with a contractor, and your relationship has a great chance of success.
At KP Contracting, our passion is helping people bring their outdoor living dreams to life. But your outdoor living dreams might have a better partner out there than us, much as we hate to admit it. In this post, we’ll review six tips you can follow to make sure you find the right contractor for your needs.
1. Find a contractor who communicates
Communication’s as essential in the contractor relationship as it is in any other. The best craftsmanship in the world can be a frustrating experience if you never hear from the craftsman. Make sure their communication style matches yours.
That said? Most customers prefer more communication to less. Few people want a waiter they never see; no parent wants a babysitter who won’t return texts. And if you’re looking for open lines, there are predictors of good communication you can check for while you’re shopping.
If a contractor is a good communicator, the reviews will probably mention that. Other customers will be open about whether a company updated them, or ghosted them. And reputable companies will respond to both negative and positive reviews. If you’ve ever seen a business respond to a bad review online with an offer to make things right, you’ve seen what it looks like to commit to communicating.
Good communicators will want to follow up with you in a meaningful fashion. In other words, not a confused random sales rep mispronouncing your name and reading from a script. Meaningful communicators check in to gauge your interest level, and see if your wants or needs have changed. They’ll be proactive in doing so, too. At KP Contracting, we send potential customers materials to read, because we want to make sure customers have as much information as they need. We hope it’s us, but the priority is making sure there’s enough information exchanged that both parties make sure they’re not a bad fit.
Good communicators will use your preferred method of communication. If they’re big on texts, but you’d prefer to hear a voice on the other end of the line, you’ll want to gravitate towards someone who picks up the phone.
2. Find a contractor who’s transparent about prices
What does transparency look like? The contractor will itemize the cost of each step in the contract and scope of work. If a change needs to be made, they’ll communicate the price of that change. Transparency is how you ensure the amount you want to spend syncs up with your contractor’s spending habits.
What sort of things should be itemized in the budget?
> Per-hour labor costs
> Material costs w/ names/descriptions
> Cost of permits, if necessary
> Disposal/dumpster rental costs
Payment terms should also be transparent. You should know when you’re going to pay, and how you can pay. Moreover, a contractor should be willing to work through itemized options with you. While itemized lists may bother some contractors, finding that out sooner than later is extremely valuable information. If they’re unwilling to be transparent about prices, they might not be for you.
But there’s a hidden side to transparency, too. Look out for contractors who highball their customers. What’s highballing? Initially offering an inflated price, so when they reduce it to the actual price, it looks like they’re giving you a discount. This tactic is familiar to anyone who’s ever signed up for a gym, and, sadly, there are contractors who do it, too.
3. Find a contractor with a solid plan for your project
The more detailed your contractor’s plans, the likelier you are to see the ways you gel (or don’t). To draw the dating comparison again, this would be like discussing future plans with a romantic partner. It’s good to know if someone doesn’t want kids before you invest in an engagement ring.
If things progress far enough, pay attention to the sort of plans the contractor’s drawing up for your project. The contractor’s plans should have drawings with measurements. It should also account for the unique features of your property, to ensure you’re not dealing with a contractor who brings a fast-food approach to crafting a project around your needs.
A deck on a slope this steep shouldn’t follow a generic plan.
The plan should also account for the time and work to get proper permits. A plan that doesn’t account for permitting is like a map that doesn’t represent distances accurately. Be wary of plans that don’t give equal time and attention to all stages of the project.
A great plan will also incorporate your suggestions, and potential problems that might occur. The more detailed the picture of a project’s what-ifs, the better sense you’ll have of the potential partnership.
4. Find a contractor who’s knowledgeable about your project
There’s a reason why dating apps suggest you mention something specific from a person’s profile when you message them: you want to make clear it’s that unique person you’re interested in.
Likewise, a contractor should be well acquainted with the unique facts of your project. Even if your project is similar to others a contractor’s done, they should ask questions that open up other possibilities or desires you might have. They should ensure their methods align with your needs. Most of all? They should ask questions, and dig into not just what you’re looking for, but why you’re looking for it. This back-and-forth might elicit suggestions from them, or help you figure out something you hadn’t considered. It’s also why a 2022 Lowe’s survey found that 50% of homeowners said detailed, personalized bids were a top priority.
There are also some general facts a contractor should know. Here’s some of the knowledge they should have:
> Can they explain the warranty?
> Can they explain what materials they’re using?
> Can they explain why they favor those materials?
5. Find a contractor who’s licensed and insured
This is probably the only one-size-fits-all item on this list, because an unlicensed contractor in the state of Maryland breaks the law the minute they break ground. Worse for you, an unlicensed contractor won’t be responsible for any damages they do to your property. No matter what your goals are, small claims court likely isn’t one of them.
Want to know if there are any complaints against a contractor? You can contact your local Consumer Protection Division Office. If you’re in Charles County, you’ll want to call the Southern Maryland branch at 301-274-4620. For other parts of Maryland, check out this page with contact info.
6. Find a contractor who offers a warranty
If you find the right contractor, the relationship won’t be a one-and-done affair. You’ll hopefully have other work you want done, and will have built up trust that can be invested in more ambitious endeavors. That’s why it’s important to find a contractor who offers a warranty.
Ideally, you’ll find a contractor who offers a lifetime warranty on their work. Your contractor should also be willing to use materials with warranties. A contractor who’s willing to guarantee their work as long as you may need lays a firm foundation for a future relationship.
Finding your perfect fit depends on your needs
Finding the right contractor isn’t just a matter of finding the right person, it’s about finding the right person for you. Once you know what’s valuable to you, you’ll know better how to find a contractor who shares your ideas about value.
At KP Contracting, we love building relationships with people who want to transform their outdoor living experiences. That said? We realize that, like in dating, we’re not perfect for everyone. But if you’re interested in finding out if we’d be a good fit, we’d love for you to reach out to us here, or at 240-266-5900.
Phil Parsons is an owner at KP Contracting with 20-years’ experience in custom remodeling and the development of outdoor living spaces that bring friends and family together. He is a degreed engineer, and his work has been featured on HGTV.