Hiring a Contractor – 4 Basic Questions

I’ve got a guest post today for you guys from CollegeMom over at ConsumerFu.com. Be sure to let her know what you think in the comments!

In the 20 years that I have been a homeowner I’ve had just a few opportunities to hire a contractor. The last time was earlier this year and it proved one thing – I have no clue how to hire a contractor.

A few months ago a storm caused a very small bit of damage to the trim on our home. Several phone calls revealed a wild difference in repair quotes for the replacement of a six foot piece of trim, and I wound up hiring the contractor who returned my call first and who had agreed to look at the damage before giving a price.

trimrepairA couple of local contractors gave high quotes without bothering to come survey the damage. One told me it wasn’t worth his time to drive out to my home. Most justified their high estimates by explaining they would have to buy an entire roll of white trim to get the one six foot piece cut.

The man I hired had a good record with the Better Business Bureau, he was professional on the phone and showed up on time. He said he would call back as soon as he had acquired the materials he needed and within a couple of days we had scheduled a time for him to finish the repairs.

On the day and at the time we had scheduled, the contractor showed up alone. I hadn’t asked him if he would be bringing any help. My husband travels. I’m 5’2” and the ladder was massive. He proceeded to explain to me that his brother-in-law, who was supposed to help him, was still drunk, so he’d left him at home. Thank goodness!

Then I found out why his quote was so low. He’d put an ad for the piece of trim on Craig’s List. He said he’d had a response in a matter of hours. The trim was almost an exact match. Brilliant! I hadn’t thought to ask him why his rate was so low. I admire his resourcefulness and that alone makes this experience worth it.

Back to the ladder. Mr. Contractor weighed maybe 150 pounds soaking wet and I was worried about him trying to get the ladder up on his own. He assured me it would be fine. The trim had to be secured under another piece at the peak of the second story of our home so the ladder was quite tall. After he stretched it out in the front yard to a height he thought would reach, we each picked up one side and slowly walked the ladder toward the front of the house.ladder1

As we struggled with the ladder he explained to me that the man who sold him the trim also loaned him the ladder for the day. He had to return it. He couldn’t come back later with help. One way or the other, we had to get that ladder up against the house.

After we finally had it positioned, the contractor finished the repairs while I held the ladder. It was about his second trip up that I noticed he paused and when I asked if he was ok he told me that he was fine…just a bit nervous since he’d fallen from a ladder two years prior and had broken both of his legs.

I can’t tell you what went through my mind. I will admit I failed to ask some basic questions, but would you have thought to ask a contractor if he was comfortable climbing a ladder?

After the work was completed we talked briefly before he left. This was when he informed me he had recently lost his liability insurance. Great! The fact is, though, I had not thought to ask and that was my responsibility.

While my situation worked out quite well, it could have been disastrous. I failed to ask some very basic questions prior to hiring this contractor.

  • Did he have help or how many would be in the crew?
  • Did he own all the equipment necessary to complete the job?
  • Was he licensed? I did actually ask this and saw his license at our first meeting.
  • Was he insured?

In the end, everything worked out for the best. Nobody was hurt and our repair was completed more quickly and less expensively than any other contractor had quoted. We plan to hire this same man to help us with a few other jobs. The good news is that none of them involves ladders and they’re small jobs so he won’t need to worry about sobering up his brother-in-law.

CollegeMom is a staff writer at ConsumerFu.com. After a career in commercial banking, she left corporate America to raise her daughters. She and her family live on four acres of old farmland with two dogs, a cat, several large gardens and a high speed internet connection.


Hiring a Contractor – 4 Basic Questions — 15 Comments

  1. Thanks for allowing me to expose my embarrassing blunders on your site, TB! I’m not sure when our joint ventures with the contractor will begin but I’m sure there will be lessons learned there as well.

    I need to hire an electrician soon, so open to any special advice in that area!
    CollegeMom recently posted..Make your own cleaning supplies & SaveMy Profile

    • I’m open to any and all stories you have on contractor work that you get done, haha! Your experiences can be everyone’s lessons :-)

  2. I’m glad it worked out – but that’s why we really like using Angie’s List when we need to find someone for a project we can’t DIY. It’s really easy to search the reviews to find service providers who are responsible, timely, and provide reasonable rates. And most of them have their license numbers (which they need insurance for) right on their Angie’s List profile page. It’s definitely saved us a load of time and money over the past few years.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..PoP Balance Sheet – March 2013My Profile

    • Mrs. Pop, I started to use Angie’s list, but the only option was a monthly subscription and I don’t hire enough people throughout the year to justify that.

      I have a friend who had a lot of work done on her home and she had great success with Angie’s list.
      CollegeMom recently posted..How to Find Cheap Hotel DealsMy Profile

      • You know, I bet if people and their neighbors or friends sat down and agreed on a few subscriptions, everyone could. I bet a neighborhood would use Angies List enough over a year to justify everyone chipping in a little for the subscription. Same for Consumers Report.

    • Angie’s list is good, and any other site that has reviews are good. You always have to be careful that people are more likely to post a bad review than good one, so I find those websites are always slanted in the negative. But they do give you a good idea!

    • I agree about Angie’s list, especially for my situation and you are absolutely right. I should have asked for references from this gentleman. I live in a farming community where there are a lot of neighbors who would have helped us with general assistance, but I needed someone with access to the right supplies. (next time I’ll try Craig’s List!)
      CollegeMom recently posted..Make your own cleaning supplies & SaveMy Profile

  3. uhhhh…. Are you SURE the guy was really licensed and bonded? He sounds like Joe Flybynight. It’s a good idea to call your state contractor’s licensing agency and check…he could have shown you a fake license.

    Angie’s List, IMHO, is worth the price, especially now that they’ve started listing medical professionals. When A.L. announced it would start charging here (the first year they’re in a city, they build their customer base by giving free access), I mined the thing for names of every workman type I could think of — handymen, electricians, plumbers, roofers, gardeners, pool guys, and on and on. Then when the subscription charge kicked in, I didn’t buy it, because I’d already downloaded as many leads as I needed. You could sign up for a one-year subscription and, for a one-time price, collect names and numbers of every “A”-level vendor you’re ever likely to need.

    After a few years, tho’, I did re-up. It’s been useful.
    Funny about Money recently posted..And Spring Slides into Summer…My Profile

    • He really was licensed (at least at some point) He was included in a list of contractors that is printed by the city and he had to be licensed to be included. I would have taken more care if it had been more than a one hour outside job. I guess the lesson is that you should take the same care in hiring someone for a one hour, outside job as you do a more complicated job.
      CollegeMom recently posted..Friday Finds: Our Favorite Posts April 5 EditionMy Profile

    • That’s a smart idea. Pay once and list out all the top contractors in your area for everything. That list should be good for a couple years.

    • I’d be sure to have someone big and burly holding the ladder everytime for me if I fell and broke 2 legs previously, that’s for sure!

  4. Pingback: 5 Questions to Ask Your Contractor Before You Sign | Blue Collar Workman

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