How to find a contractor you can trust

Written on June 12, 2018 by

Planning a large remodel? Needing someone to make an emergency repair? Looking to complete the support team for your rental business? If so, you’ll have many contractor options, but choose wisely.

Hiring someone who has few skills, manages time poorly, or is dishonest wears on your time and resources.

A trustworthy contractor usually has a network of tradespeople who can step in when the need arises. Find the right person and you may never have to search for qualified maintenance support again.

Related: How to build a little black book of contractors

1. Look for a trustworthy contractor

You can always find a contractor, but your goal is to find a good, reliable contractor you can trust. Here are some ways:

Through people you know

The No. 1 place to start searching for a trusted contractor is among your friends. Many of the best contractors stopped advertising long ago. They rely on satisfied customers to do their advertising for them. If you’re looking for someone to complete a particular task, find friends who have had that type of work done and ask for recommendations.

Neighborhood review websites

Join a neighborhood discussion group. When you ask for recommendations on sites such as Nextdoor.com, you usually get several leads, phone numbers and all. Yelp is another resource, especially for contractors who specialize in large-scale projects.

Online classified services (Craigslist)

Search the Services tab for your area, or post a job opening. If you post, be prepared to screen responses carefully because scammers are a fact of life in the world of online classifieds. Accept email replies only, ask for contact information, and initiate further contact yourself.

Local hardware and building supply centers

Here, you’re likely to find plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. Ask the customer service representative for business cards. They probably have several on file.

Related: 8 real estate professionals a landlord can’t live without

2. Ask questions…then more questions

Getting in touch with a pro who can handle your job is just the first step. You need to know more before you sign on the dotted line, especially if you’re contracting a big job. A trusted contractor can give you satisfying answers to the following questions:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Have you done this kind of work before and how often?
  • Do you have references?

The last question is the most important one. A reference should include contact information so you can follow up. When you call the reference, you’ll want to know the following information:

  • Did the contractor do the work in a complete and timely manner?
  • Was the contractor well organized?
  • Was the contractor easy to work with?
  • Did personal problems ever interfere with the work?
  • Did the contractor charge a fair price for the work? Were there “extra charges”?
  • Would the person ever hire this contractor again?

Related: 4 tips for first time landlords

3. Schedule a meeting

In the end, trust your gut feeling about a person you’re considering working with. Schedule a face-to-face meeting before you sign anything. During the meeting, you’ll want to go over details of the job, but let the conversation wander a bit to get an idea of the contractor’s attitude to work. You might ask such questions as:

  • How long have you been doing this kind of work?
  • Why did you start doing it?
  • What was your favorite (most troublesome) project?

Touching on appropriate personal issues—such as family—and trivialities—such as favorite movies—might reveal some shared interests, which is a good sign. A trusted contractor, like a friend, is someone with whom you share a certain commonality and who speaks your language.

4. Remember, trust is a two-way street

It isn’t a good idea to micromanage a pro, but it is a good idea to stay in touch and communicate any concerns that arise. Addressing issues such as work standards or punctuality at the outset prevents small matters from turning into bigger problems later on.

If you have an emergency, you need a competent contractor. If you want to create an effective maintenance network for your rental, you need a trustworthy one. In any long-term relationship, even with a contractor, trust works both ways. Be honest, communicative, and reliable, and that’s probably what you’ll get in return.

Related: 8 traits of an ethical landlord

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3 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Priscilla

    I’ve had good luck using checkbook.org. It’s a non-profit similar to Consumer Reports, but they report on contractors (and many other businesses) rather than products. They don’t accept advertising.

  • Priscilla

    Sometimes I start with the Labor & Industries website at https://secure.lni.wa.gov/verify/

    Used to be, I would find a contractor & then look up the license, violation history, etc. Now, I go to L&I’s website for a list of good names. That way, I don’t waste time on companies that aren’t licensed or that live in Lawsuit City. Years ago, I found a contractor with a great rep whose license had expired the week before; he thanked me for letting him know, then drove to Olympia to renew it. Tell a deadbeat contractor that he’s unlicensed – he’ll disappear. Report to L&I.

    Next, I go to checkbook.org for ratings from former customers. But CAREFUL: one woman said a man was “scary”. Had him come out; he was very hairy. Great worker though. Hmm.

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