Picking a Great Contractor

Tips for Homeowners to Start With Confidence

By this point you've probably already decided that you're going to need to hire someone to complete your construction project, but you don't have the time or money to waste on a contractor who's not reliable or trustworthy. There are some people who can throw money at a problem until it's fixed, but most people don't have that sort of ammunition and must be sure to pick a good contractor the first time. The vast majority of contractors you have to choose from in your area will provide wonderful, skilled work. Following a few simple rules and doing a little homework before hiring one will help you avoid the few who won't.


Check the Credentials

By law all contractors performing work at a certain level have to be licensed in the state of Louisiana. Licenses fall in to two general categories: residential and commercial. There are varying other types of licenses as well such as for mold abatement and asbestos cleanup. Most homeowners looking for a good contractor will simply need someone with a residential license.

The law in Louisiana says that you must have a residential contractors license to perform construction work on a home that is three stories or less when the value of the service is $7,500 or more. Many projects fall in to that category, but even if the work is not nearly that expensive it pays off to hire a licensed contractor. In order to obtain a state license the contractor must pay a certain amount of fees to the state, be fully investigated if from out of state, but most importantly they must be able to pass a state exam proving their knowledge in the field and are subject to license revocation if they fail to maintain their skills, commit certain crimes, or do not honor their contracts. Licenses are good for one year and can be verified online at the State Board for Licensing's website.

Contractors are also required to carry both liability and workers compensation insurance by state law. They must submit proof of insurance to the state before their license is granted, but you should request individual proof as well. Insurance companies will prepare a certificate of coverage and send it to you so that you can rest easy. Ask your contractor for one before you sign any paperwork and review it before allowing any work to begin.


Avoid Pressure Sales and Scams

A contractor's sales techniques may provide you with some insight in to their character and the resulting work. High pressure sales requiring an immediate decision or a discount to 'sign up now' are a definite red flag that most people are aware of. Pressure to sign immediately takes away your right as a consumer to solicit multiple bids on your project and check the background of the contractor beforehand. Here are some other warning signs that may tip you off:

  1. Requiring cash payment
  2. Not offering a written contract
  3. Demanding a large down payment
  4. Door to door sales offering immediate work
  5. Scare tactics

Never under any circumstances should you pay cash for repair/remodeling work and always require a written contract before beginning work of substance. For most jobs it is best to have the payment terms written in to the contract in clear and understandable terms. Do not sign the contract until you understand all of your responsibilities contained within it and don't be embarrassed or hold back from asking questions. It is in both the contractor and consumers best interest to ensure that everyone understands the limitations and responsibilities applied to both parties.

Reasonable down payments may vary based on the job but as a general rule do not pay more than $1,000 down or 10% of the project price, whichever is smaller, for home repair, remodeling, or renovation. Established and reliable contractors have money or credit enough to pay for workers and supplies so do not pay those costs up front if requested and consider reviewing your options again if asked.


Check Their References

The internet is such a powerful and easy tool for research that you should never sign a contract without looking online first. There are several pay sites that you can visit that are specifically for contractors, such as Angie's list, to read user reviews. Angie's list is a great site (you can research us there) and well respected but requires that you pay a premium to see local contractor reviews. With so much information readily available you can avoid payment altogether by checking other respectable, free sites. Websites such as Google Places, the Yellow Pages, Yelp, and others allow customers to review and comment on all manner of businesses from pizza parlors to government offices. These reviews may offer valuable insight and save you hassle and money.

The Better Business Bureau was founded in 1912 and continues to be a fantastic resource for consumers over 100 years later. The BBB allows you another access point to check for customer complaints or gross misconduct.

Established contractors also will keep a list of references handy to give out to potential customers when asked. Many references will allow you to come inspect the site as well, so that you can see first hand the quality of the workmanship. Remember though that contractors won't distribute references that were unhappy with the work, so while these leads can be extremely useful you should also perform additional research online.


In Summary

Picking out a good contractor from the crowd has probably never been easier. With the internet it is easy to check a contractors references and reputation well before work begins. Remembering the points outlined here will provide you with an advantage when it's time to make the decision. With so much money and your home at stake it only makes sense to perform a little up front research to potentially save you hours of misery.