What to Look for in a Good Contractor

What to Look for in a Good Contractor


"It's the same way you would choose your friends, in a way," says Zavitz. "You have to use your intuition."

If you've ever hired a contractor for any type of project, you'll know that choosing the right person is the most important thing you can do to ensure the job gets done right. Unfortunately, many homeowners, especially those who are buying in a new area, simply don't know where to start when it comes to finding the right person for the job.

There are plenty of good contractors out there, so why is finding a good one so difficult sometimes? Brian Zavitz, a contractor with over 20 years of experience, and the author of the eBook "The Homeowner's Guide to Finding a Contractor," thinks that most people simply don't realize how important finding the right contractor is.

"People don't treat finding a good contractor as a skill to be learned," he says. Instead, most people take what he calls the "shotgun approach," where they simply ask a contractor: "When can you start, how long will it take, and how much will it cost?" While it's important to get quotes before beginning a project, there's much more that goes into finding a good contractor than taking the "shotgun approach." So in order to help you make the right decision for your next project, here are 10 tips you can use to find a great contractor.

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Don't Believe Everything You Read Online

The days of finding contractors in the Yellow Pages are over, but nowadays instead of pulling out the phone book, most people turn to Google. According to Zavitz, however, this is not a good way to begin your search.

"I don't think that going to a contractor's website is useful in the least," he says. While positive testimonials on a contractor's website can be a good sign, Zavitz points out that "they can be falsified."

Learn to Navigate Review Sites Like Homestars.com

Instead of simply searching the Internet at large, Zavitz recommends using a site like Homestars.com to narrow down your search field. Homestars is "a really good shortcut to finding a good contractor because you're getting genuine, unfiltered feedback from clients that they've had," he says.

However, even sites like Homestars can have their problems. One issue that Zavitz has come across is the fact that most contractors with 10-star reviews will be booked for months in advance and unavailable to take on new jobs.

"My recommendation for something like that is to be patient," he says. "Don't go for the people who are getting 10 stars, go for the people who are getting 8.5 stars out of 10, and read the reviews." Rather than simply looking at star ratings, carefully reading reviews can actually give you a better idea of how a contractor will work with you.

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Be Wary of Advertising

Another search method to stay away from is picking a contractor based on a flyer you've received in the mail. "I advise never to engage a contractor who you find out through a flyer that comes to your mailbox," Zavitz says.

This doesn't mean that all contractors who send out flyers are bad contractors, but, Zavitz says, "there's such a possible high concentration of bad experiences coming that way that I say it's best to avoid it altogether."

Ultimately, Zavitz says, "The people who are good in just about any market do not need to advertise."

Ask for Recommendations from Other Tradespeople You Trust

If the Internet and your mailbox can't be trusted, then who can be trusted? In most cases, the best way to find a contractor is through word of mouth. However, not just any word of mouth will do – getting a recommendation from your neighbour who had someone help them build a fence is much different than getting a recommendation from someone who actually works in the construction industry. If you have a plumber, electrician, or other tradesperson you trust, ask them who they would hire as a contractor to work on their home.

Get Multiple Quotes

No matter how big or small of a job you're planning, it's always a good idea to seek out multiple quotes before making your final decision. How many quotes should you get? That depends on how big the job is.

"At the very least, talk to no fewer than three different contractors," says Zavitz. The larger the project, the more quotes you should solicit. "You have to weigh the potential for loss," he says. If it's a small renovation, then you have less to lose if you make the wrong choice, but if you're planning a major project, you'll be well served by soliciting as many quotes as you can, within a reasonable timeframe.

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Don't Worry Too Much about the Price

"People focus on price; that's a mistake," says Zavitz. While price is always a factor that must be taken in to consideration, simply choosing the contractor who gives you the best quote is not the best way to find the right person for the job. In fact, this can often lead to problems later; a price that's much lower than the comparables could be a sign of an inexperienced contractor, or worse, an unscrupulous one.

Ask the Right Questions

Knowing what questions to ask a contractor during your initial meeting with them can help you narrow down your list of choices. Here are a few good questions to use:

First, ask the contractor how much advertising they do. "It's a trick question," says Zavitz; if the contractor just wants to impress you, he or she will start bragging about how much they spend on advertising. However, as Zavitz has explained, this is usually a bad sign, and will give you an indication that you may not want to work with this person.

Another important issue to ask about is how the contractor deals with unexpected issues. Issues beyond anyone's control will arise with any major renovation project, and a good contractor is not one who avoids these issues altogether, as this can be impossible to do, but one who takes the initiative to resolve the issues as quickly as possible, without giving the client anything to worry about. "Major renovations can be very stressful, and a good contractor has to be a bit of a psychologist," Zavitz says.

For more tips like these, you can refer to the list of sample questions provided in Zavitz's eBook.

Be Clear About Your Needs

Sometimes, bad contractor-client relationships can actually stem from a bad client, and not the other way around. What makes a bad client? There are a variety of issues at play, but the biggest factor usually comes down to clear communication. Are you clear about exactly what you want to be done? Do you fully understand the size and extent of the work you're asking for, and can you communicate that properly to your contractor? The more straightforward and transparent you can be, the more likely you'll get an accurate quote, and the more likely end up with a finished product you're happy with as well.

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Use Your Intuition

Another important factor to pay attention to when speaking to a contractor is their general attitude and demeanour. "It's the same way you would choose your friends, in a way," says Zavitz. "You have to use your intuition."

Some things to pay attention to are how much they listen, and how honestly they answer your questions. Sometimes, admitting you don't know the answer to something can actually be a sign of wisdom rather than a sign of weakness.

Enjoy the Process

The final step in choosing the right contractor is simply to have fun and enjoy the process. After all, you're making your living space more wonderful, so you might as well have a good time while you're at it.

And in the end, if you do end up with a bad contractor, you can always chalk it up to experience. "Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement," says Zavitz, quoting Will Rogers. So don't worry too much about making mistakes; as long as you learn from them, mistakes will only help you grow.

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2 Responses

  1. Guillaume

    A friend of mine recently found his contractor to redo his kitchen in the paper edition of the yellow pages! His approach was that he wanted an experienced contractor; and it is less likely that new companies will pay for paper ads. Older contractors running small businesses never turned to online advertising as they keep on getting jobs from word of mouth. I think it links to ‘ Be wary of advertising’. Though it was a brilliant idea.
    Guillaume – blog.movingwaldo.ca

  2. Tiffany Kermany

    Great article, it’s very important to find a good contractor and I absolutely agree that experienced contractors don’t need advertising.

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