When it comes to home renovations I’ve read a lot of tips. One piece of advice I’ve read over and over is that when a contractor isn’t getting the job done well you should fire him immediately. There are numerous horror stories out there of people losing piles of money on contractors who promise but don’t deliver.
Having awareness of these warnings led to a big problem for me when I was considering hiring various companies for our project. Trust. How could I trust these people I’d never met to do what they said they would do? On the other hand, was it fair to distrust everyone simply because of some warnings on the internet? I was hesitant to automatically think the worst of people. These are businesses in my town! We don’t have bad businesses in my town, do we??
I decided to use my “instincts” (ha ha – what instincts??) and was determined we wouldn’t hire someone who couldn’t deliver.
But we almost did.
So now, looking back on the plumber, electrician, tree climber, and window/siding company that we ended up hiring, I’m here to share with you what we learned about how to decide who to hire – and who to fire.
Disclaimer: this is not a fool-proof list. I’m sure every one of these has exceptions to the rule! These are just what we came to realize work for us. Also: I will not share business names here, because the goal is to share our story, not sabotage anyone’s company.
Look at Who You Know
If we had already used a service and liked their work, we started there. This is how we got our trees taken care of. Yes, we still got a quote, but we had enough confidence in the honesty of the company that we trusted their quote and went with it.
Windows and siding were also completed by a company we’d used before. After getting several other quotes (one lower, one higher) we went with them because we knew they’d get it done.
When we started this process I didn’t think we’d work with any of the same companies we’d used on our own home, because they likely weren’t the cheapest option. But trust proved to be important enough to trump a lower quote in a few situations.
Look for the Pro
We didn’t know anyone for the garage door replacement, so our quotes came from companies we didn’t know. The first company was cordial and we were given a professional written quote on the spot. The second company was extremely friendly, and the contractor was very personable and offered lots of useful input. He gave us a verbal estimate that was significantly cheaper than the first company. If we’d been choosing that minute I would have hired him because of his relational skills and price.
However, we asked for a written estimate. And the quote on paper was several hundred dollars more than the verbal quote had been (which brought it to about the same price as the first guy). So we went with the first company. Why? In my opinion they handled my quote more professionally by giving me one price – in writing – on the spot. So I had more confidence our job would be handled professionally. Technically both companies were ‘professional’ (they both had their business name on the side of a van) – but only one acted professionally in the quoting process.
Look for Words and Actions That Match
The same contractor who we didn’t hire for the garage door also gave us a quote on siding and windows. Again, he was full of helpful information and was a very nice guy in person. But his words and actions didn’t match up. He said he could get windows ordered and installed in a short amount of time (great!). But then he didn’t get us the quote for a month – holding up the entire process of getting things ordered. He told us the cost would be no more than a certain amount. But when we finally got the quote, it was thousands more than the verbal amount. He talked about how he’d been in the business for a long time – but how he didn’t think permits were really necessary for most projects.
All of those were issues, but we actually decided to trust him, give him the benefit of the doubt, and sign over a large amount of money to get the projects done. We set up a time to have him meet us to finalize paperwork and give him a down payment.
But he didn’t show at the appointed time, didn’t call to tell us he was running behind on another job, and didn’t apologize.
So Bruce and I made a decision to cancel it all with him. Bruce expressed it well: as a teacher he doesn’t even accept late homework in his classroom from his high school students. So why were we going to continue to let a contractor be late (and pay him for it)? Plus, we realized there was a strong potential that he wouldn’t deliver what he promised, since he wasn’t delivering on the simple things (like quotes and meetings).
But I have a better understanding of why people get stuck with a ‘bad’ contract…because it actually wasn’t easy for us to make that decision. This contractor had spent some of his time at our property. He was nice. We’d told him we were going to go with him. We felt like canceling was breaking our word to him, and since we’d met with him a few times we felt like maybe he’d feel that we’d been leading him on dishonestly and wasting his time intentionally. Angst! Guilt! Aargh!!
Still, the phone call was made, and I kept it simple – I just let him know we’d decided to go with another company. He responded professionally and that was that. And we both breathed a sigh of relief.
Look For People You Like (but not always)
This can’t always be the determining factor – in fact, it falls below all of the others in importance. But if both companies are new (you don’t have any background of trust), both are professional, and both offer you the same price – then what?
We experienced this when hiring an electrician. Both were professional, got quotes to us promptly, and gave us similar estimates on cost. Ultimately we went with the guy we liked better. And we’re so glad we did. We spent a lot of shared hours in the house with him and his employee and really enjoyed having them around. There’s something to be said for that. J
With the plumber it was a different story: we couldn’t use the guy we liked.
We hired two plumbers. The first worked part time (weekends) and we REALLY like him personally…but he was terrible about communicating when he was coming over, kept changing his timeline, was very sporadic on getting work done, and we found it difficult to line up projects with him since he wanted to work when we didn’t (evenings and weekends). He was a great guy, but his style of working was making our lives more stressful. We realized we couldn’t hire him for the big plumbing job that needed dedicated days of work.
The second plumber (hired for the big plumbing job) was super speedy and got everything done in two days – but wasn’t that personable. I don’t think he really wanted to be there. And to be honest I think we’ll look for a different plumber next time and try to find one we like better. But we would consider hiring that company again despite not liking them personally, because they did the job correctly and quickly.
I’m sure on every project we tackle we’ll encounter different situations, and the issue of how to know who to hire will never totally go away. But as you can see, our experiences with this flip have definitely helped inform our future decisions.
I’m really curious, though: what are your thoughts on how to hire the right company? Have any of you experienced any good or bad situations with hiring that have impacted how you choose who to hire?? I’d love to hear about it!