Contractor Confidence: How to Find Good Service

Contractor Confidence: How to Find Good Service

By Nancy Moffett

If you’re not an experienced homeowner or are new to the area, it can be a daunting task to find a reliable, honest and skilled contractor. What are the best ways to sort out the good from the not-so-good and avoid the bad altogether?

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the home repair industry was the most-inquired-about industry in 2012 and had the second most complaints. So, it’s critical that you do your homework before hiring anyone to work on your home. If you are looking for a new-home contractor, the same principles apply.

Ask People You Know

This is Homeownership 101. Ask friends, family, coworkers, the realtor who sold you your home who they have used and would recommend. If you’re not satisfied with the results, join Angie’s List to read contractor reviews. Check out local trade associations – the Lehigh Valley Builders Assocation’s website allows you to search by service type for member companies. Their Remodelers Council is a good resource for home improvement contractors. The Association requires members to abide by their Code of Ethics, which includes adherence to honest practices, laws, quality and safety standards, professionalism and more. Membership in the National Association of the Remodeling Industry is another good indicator of quality, says Bruce Snyder, owner of Penn Contractors, Emmaus.

Get References and Check Them

The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act of Pennsylvania requires home improvement contractors doing more than $5,000 of construction work per year to be licensed by the Attorney General’s office. They must also carry at least $50,000 of personal injury liability and $50,000 of property damage insurance. Application for licensing includes disclosure of any bankruptcies or criminal convictions. Check to make sure anyone you are considering is licensed and insured at Also, check the BBB to see if there have been complaints and whether the company has handled them satisfactorily.

If you’re considering building or buying a home in a development, it pays to knock on doors and ask residents if they’re happy with their homes, says home builder Curtis E. Schneck, as well as actually calling the people given as references by your prospective contractor. Ask to visit so you can make an accurate assessment of the quality of the work. Many people skip this step, but that’s like buying a car without test-driving it.

Match the Contractor to the Project

Snyder advises homeowners to be more in tune with what the project really is. For instance, if someone you know is happy with a contractor who put in replacement windows, that doesn’t mean they can handle a bathroom remodel. “You want to hire someone who does your kind of project well and often,” he says. Penn Contractors is an example of a company with a lot of experience with home additions, but other contractors may be more small-job oriented, so it’s important to again do your homework.

Stay Local

It happens every spring. Just like the robins returning, out-of-area contractors come knocking on doors, offering to sealcoat your driveway, put on a new roof, repair or replace siding. “We call them ‘storm-chasers’,” Schneck explains. Some come from as far away as Texas and Alabama. Snyder cites cases where these fly-by-nighters damaged siding while the homeowners were gone, then offered to fix the damage. “What good is their guarantee,” he asks, “if you can’t find them?” Both men agree we have plenty of reputable contractors right here in the Lehigh Valley, so there is no reason to deal with these people.

Get Quotes and a Contract

Once you have identified several contractors, Schneck’s advice on narrowing down your choice is, “Don’t go for price alone.” Snyder agrees, saying the old adage of getting three bids seldom works. “The problem is you usually get three wildly different numbers.” This occurs because you may not be communicating exactly what it is you want done. For instance, you want a storm door installed. Every bid should be for the exact same door and include installation and possible alteration costs. “It’s more important to find someone you feel comfortable with, that you trust, than to price shop,” Snyder advises.

The next step is to get everything in writing. The Pennsylvania Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act requires all contracts for home improvements of more than $500 to be in writing and signed by both consumer and contractor. They must also include a description of the work, approximate start and completion dates, the total price and notice of the consumer’s right to cancel.

Never Pay Everything Up Front

The law also spells out limits on deposits for home improvement projects of more than $5,000. Snyder follows a contract format which asks for 5% on acceptance, 5% on completion with specific milestone payments in between. “This is a comfort for both parties,” he says. Cases of home improvement fraud usually involve homeowners paying most or all of the cost up-front only to have the work either not completed or not done according to the contract.

Take the time to do your research, interview the candidates, then make your choice based on your findings. At the end of the day, you need to be confident that your contractor can do the job and do it well so you can enjoy the results.

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