Contractor Selection Tips

Price: In choosing the best price, make sure that you compare apples-to-apples. Compare written estimates (not verbal promises) regarding the amount of preparation, quality of materials, number of coats, etc. The lowest price is seldom the best price.

Promptness: A contractor who keeps the appointment for an estimate is more likely to arrive promptly for the job and complete the project on time.

Communications: How a contractor responds to phone calls can be an indication of your ability to contact him after the work begins. If you must wait days for a return phone call, will the same occur after the job starts?

Insurance: Adequate insurance is important for your protection. Ask to see a Certificate of Insurance.

Warranty: A professional contractor will stand behind his work and will offer a written warranty. However, if the company goes out of business (or can’t be located), your warranty is useless. The stability of the company is as important as the warranty.

Written Proposal: A well written proposal will carefully describe what is included in the job. This allows both parties to clarify any omissions or misunderstandings. The proposal speaks volumes about the professionalism of the contractor.

References: Any contractor should be able to produce a list of good references. If possible, drive by a recently completed job and look for at the quality of their work.

Consumer awareness: No two jobs are exactly alike. A professional contractor will seek to learn what you need and/ or desire. He will listen to your comments and questions, and make recommendations suited to your purposes.

Trust: A contractor may be at or in your home for a week or longer. Be certain that you feel comfortable with him.

Contractor Selection Articles

About.com’s Bob Formisano, writes the Home Repair Column: “The easiest, and one of the best ways to select a possible contractor, is to get references from friends, family or a Realtor you trust.”

Painting and Decorating Contractors of America produced this article on hiring a professional.

The Certified Contractors NetWork produced this brochure on contractor selection.

Tim Carter, who writes the Ask the Builder syndicated column, writes: Contractors need to go through a job interview with you in order for you to know what type of abilities they have. Ask about professional designations, association memberships and the types of trade journals he reads. Verify the memberships by making a few calls. Learn all you can about what your contractor knows.”

Pricing Differences Among Painting Contractors

While reviewing a proposal with a customer, we are often told that our scope of work includes work not included by other contractors. And, because our price is often considerably higher than the other estimates, the customer wonders if perhaps we inflating our price by including unnecessary work. This is certainly an understandable concern, and it raises numerous issues that homeowners should consider.

There are many possible reasons why contractors do not include certain items in their proposals. However, I believe that there are only two primary reasons: price and ignorance.

Many, if not most, contractors believe that price drives the market-that homeowners make their purchasing decisions purely (or almost so) based on price. If this were true, we’d all be driving Yugos (or something similar). Clearly this is not the case.

If a contractor believes that price is all that matters, he will endeavor to keep his price as low as possible. He may omit items that are marginally necessary, use less expensive products, or simply cut corners. He may give the customer limited options, believing that the more expensive alternatives will not be considered. No matter his specific tactic, he tries to have the lowest price, because in his mind that is how the job will be won.

Such a belief does a disservice to the contractor and the customer. The contractor suffers because he is wrong-price is seldom the primary consideration. The customer suffers because he does not have the opportunity to learn about all of his options, and select the one that is best for him.

Because many contractors do not belong to their trade association, attend conferences or seminars, or engage in continuing education, they often remain unaware of new products, technologies, or practices. As a result they cannot offer their customers the benefit of these new opportunities.

One example is ventilation. Few painters are aware of the impact of improper ventilation on painted surfaces. Consequently, when faced with an improperly ventilated home, they cannot offer a solution. They simply prepare and paint the house, and the homeowner is faced with the same problems (mildew and peeling paint) several years later. If the homeowner receives 4 or 5 estimates, and only one contractor addresses the ventilation issue, that contractor may easily be greeted with skepticism.

(This does not mean that every contractor that proposes a more extensive scope of work is legitimate. There are certainly contractors who propose unnecessary work, either intentionally or unintentionally.)

Homeowners purchase home improvement projects infrequently. They call professional contractors both for their skills and their expertise. When the experts differ and offer conflicting advice, the homeowner can be very confused. The homeowner must determine which expert to believe.

We believe that a professional contractor is much like a doctor-we must diagnose a problem and then recommend a solution. As in medicine, technology and new discoveries are continually changing the construction industry. As professionals we have a responsibility to stay abreast of those changes so that we can properly diagnose and solve problems. Unfortunately many contractors do not share this view.