How to Build a Little Black Book of Contractors

Written on January 28, 2013 by , updated on September 6, 2017

Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Contractors Closer.

Little Black Book of ContractorsDownload Template

Finding Quality Contractors

Finding a contractor is easy.  Finding a quality and affordable contractor is much more difficult.  Much like a wife of noble character, a contractor that is trustworthy and cost-effective, is worth far more than rubies.

Once you find a “keeper”, you should nurture and build a relationship that is mutually beneficial. If you have been a Landlord or Property Manager for even a few months, you know that property maintenance is an ongoing battle.

Your success, and over all profit, is partly dependent on your ability to offer a well-maintained and appealing product on a sometimes over-saturated rental market.

What’s Your Property Maintenance Strategy?

To maintain your property, you have three options:

  1. learn to be an excellent handyman and do everything yourself, or 
  2. build a list of go-to contractors that you can trust, and call them for repairs, or
  3. do both

I’ve chosen to take a hybrid approach (#3). For years, I’ve tried to learn about home maintenance by watching the professionals that I hire.  Now, I feel that I can repair *most* things myself.  However, I still hire out repairs when I don’t have time, or simply don’t want to try to tackle the issue at hand (here’s looking at you Mr. Clogged Sewer Line).

The Secret to Keeping Quality Contractors

Once you find them, the secret to keeping great contractors is to build a trust-worthy relationship with them. Despite what you think, excellent contractors don’t need your business. If they are affordable and do great work, they will also be some of the busiest people you’ll meet.

From a Landlord’s Perspective

When reviewing contractors, consider these factors:

  • Did they show up on time (or at least within the estimated window)?
  • Did they show confidence and pride in their work?
  • Were they competitively/fairly priced?
  • Did they treat you (and your family) with respect (i.e. did they take off their dirty shoes, or did they put their tools on your clean duvet)?
  • Were they willing and able to coordinate with your tenants to make the repairs?

From a Contractor’s Perspective

Remember, contractors are also reviewing you. In my opinion, Contractors and repair men don’t get enough credit.  They often do the jobs that home owners are not skilled enough to perform, or are scared to tackle.  Many times, my go-to handyman has fixed a job that I first poorly attempted to remedy (and only made worse).

When they perform a job for you, they are often asking themselves the following questions:

  • Am I going to get paid immediately or is his check going to bounce?
  • Am I being shown general respect and human decency, or does he treat me like dirt?
  • Will the owner send me referrals and repeat business?

You Can Get Blacklisted

Believe it or not, contractors keep notes on their customers.  In some cities, contractors even ban together to help or hurt specific home owners.

For example, I recently purchased a rental house with a dilapidated in-ground pool.  The previous owner had tried many times to repair it, but never paid any of the contractors for their efforts.  As a result, each contractor left the job site quickly after the previous owner failed to make the 1st payment.

To my dismay, those contractors had told other contractors about the situation.  When I finally decided to make the necessary repairs, I had trouble getting any of the local pool renovation companies to give me an estimate. As soon as I mentioned the house’s address, they immediately thought that I was going to stiff them.  I quickly figured out what was happening, and had to convince the contractors that I was a new owner, and that I would indeed pay them.

Ways to Build Trust

In order to build a trustworthy list of contractors, remember to do the following:

  1. Always greet them respect and a grateful heart.
  2. Be honest with them – you can negotiate, but don’t lie or use any manipulation techniques.
  3. Thank them multiple times for responding to the service call.
  4. Offer them multiple non-alcoholic drinks while they are working – and perhaps a snack.
  5. Tell your friends and family about your favorite contractors. Generate referrals for them.
  6. Give great reviews on Yelp.com when they are deserved.
  7. Send a Christmas card (more applicable for a Property Manager)
  8. After you’ve worked with them a few times, get to know them and ask about their family.

The Benefits

Lock Box

Master Lock Key Box

In return, they will do EXCELLENT work, and will make your service calls a priority over other folks. If you follow these guidelines, you will be surprised how quickly you will be able weed out the bad contractors from the good ones.

Ideally, when you find a quality handyman that you trust, you can give them better access to your property so they can maintain it more easily.  In lieu of actually giving them key, I will often use a key lockbox, and will give the combination to my trusted contractors.  Just for security, I usually change the combo once a year.

Note: I never give my tenants the combination because they will use it to let their friends into the house, and forget to put the key back in the box.

You Need to Build a List

Little Black Book of ContractorsTo keep things organized, I store a spreadsheet in my Google Drive.  I call this list my “Little Black Book of Contractors. This list helps me track all the various contractors I’ve used over the years, which properties they visited, and which contractors were poor/average/great.

To help you get started, you can download my template, and save it as your own!  To save it in your Google Docs, just click “File > Make a Copy“.  If you want to download it, click “File > Download as > Excel“. If you enjoy it, consider liking our Facebook Page.

photo credit: Velo Steve via cc
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4 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Jerred Morris

    We use sub contractors all the time and it’s difficult to find ones that are honest and do good work. Be prepared to go through 10 to 20 contractors before you find one that works for you.

    You also need to know when to get rid of contractors. Don’t let a bad contractor hustle you into more work. If you hire them for paint but they tell you that they can do tile. That’s a red flag. Tile guys do tile, painters paint. Get a contractor for each specific task and use a handyman for the small stuff.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hey Jerred,

      That’s really great advice. Most of the time, I like hiring a specialists for each task because the quality of work is so much better. However, it’s definitely more expensive, and I didn’t have the cash when I was just starting out.

      I was forced to look for someone who could do tile and painting. Occasionally, I would find a handyman who could do many tasks, and do them all well. When you find someone like that, hold onto them as long as you can.

      However, I never let a handyman perform any tasks without checking references and looking at their portfolio of work.

  • Warren Wilson

    Thanks for the helpful advice. Since I live abroad, I’m looking into home warranty companies to handle major repairs. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions about using them?
    Thanks!

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