How to Realistically Find a Reliable Contractor – Really!

Tips on vetting one of the most important members of your team.

By BreAnn Stephenson

If the title of this article made you wince, you are not alone. Unfortunately, within the RE investment world, the reputation of contractors is not always a stellar one. This can present additional challenges with the host of exposures that accompany any renovation project. When heavy objects, ladders and power tools are involved, hiring a conscientious contractor is just as important as stellar craftsmanship. As the spouse of a contractor, I can tell you that you can find great help for rehabbing your dream flips. But what characteristics should you specifically look for, and just where do you find one of these rare birds?

THE BASICS

Honestly, finding a reliable contractor is no different from assembling any other part of your “power team.” Look for someone who returns your calls promptly, shows up on time and is a good communicator. You want a contractor who is honest about what will realistically be required to complete a job with quality workmanship, not someone who is going to cut corners. Substandard craftsmanship not only affects the project cosmetically, but structural errors can jeopardize the safety of other subcontractors or future occupants of your property.

THE NON-NEGOTIABLES – LICENSING, INSURANCE AND PERMITS

Anyone you hire should be properly licensed and insured. Licensing is not a guarantee that all work will be done according to current building codes, but those who are licensed are more likely to avoid serious structural errors that could lead to severe, or even fatal injuries. If you allow someone who is underinsured to work on your property, you could become responsible for the medical bills if a worker gets hurt. Contractors should have their own general liability policy that includes products and completed operations coverage. If they have employees, they should also have worker’s comp.

In addition to licensing and insurance, being sure your contractor obtains any necessary permits is just as important. It can keep you from inheriting any potential fines from the local government, but more importantly, the permitting process can also ensure that the proper plans are in place for any complex structural work. Some plans need to be signed by or obtained directly from an engineer in order for a permit to be granted and work to begin. In those cases, the engineer is the one with the expertise to evaluate loads on walls and other support structures so that the apparatus does not fail. For example, features like decks are nice amenities to enjoy, but can also become a large liability hazard if they are not properly constructed.

HOW DO YOU VET A CONTRACTOR?

1.Place good value ahead of the cheapest bid. The Achilles’ heel of many an investor is the need to always find a “killer deal.” Don’t be lured in by the lowest number— the cheapest bid isn’t always the safest bet. Assess the contractor’s experience, including whether he or she has a crew capable of accomplishing the size of a project like yours, and thoroughly check references. As I previously mentioned, be sure your contractors have the proper licensing and are fully insured, including worker’s comp if applicable. Ironically, hiring the best can often be less costly than hiring the “cheapest.”

2.See them in action. Just as you might show up at potential tenants’ current residences to see how they care for their abode, meeting contractors at their current jobsites will show you in person how they actually operate. Does the project seem to be running smoothly? Do the contractors seem comfortable having you on the jobsite? Do they offer to give you a tour? Does the jobsite seem orderly? (Well, as orderly as can be for a construction site, that is.)

3.Find out what reputation precedes them. Contractors who have a well-structured business are “regulars” at Sherwin-Williams and other local supply stores. The ones who care about growing their business have a vested interest in developing good relationships with these suppliers as it can garner them better discounts. (Which can be passed on to you, by the way.) The employees of these suppliers will know the regulars well and have a unique insight into their experience level, choice of materials and management style.

4.Ask who they like to follow. Sometimes finding a great contractor can be as simple as asking other contractors who they like to follow in the process of remodeling. What framer does the plumber like to work with? What electrician does your drywaller like to follow? To a remodeler, there is nothing more aggravating than having to get creative on the fly because the tradesman before them decided that “innovative” was better. As the construction field is made up of skilled trades, those on the “front lines” will have the most accurate assessment of their colleagues’ technical expertise and work ethic. Not only can you find quality workers by using this method, but efficiency and cash flow can be dramatically improved when you have a team that knows how to work in concert.

HOW TO KEEP A GOOD ONE

Once you’ve found the perfect fit for your “make-some-green team,” then what? Stay involved with the process even once you become comfortable. Don’t let trust turn into complacency when it comes to safety issues—always be sure you have a current copy of your contractors’ insurance and licensing and that the appropriate permits are pulled for each project. Treat everyone with fairness and respect, and you should be golden, just like the rule.

Article compliments of Community Investor Magazine.

BreAnn Stephenson is the assistant vice president of Affinity Loss Prevention Services.