Finding a Great Contractor to Work on Your Rental Properties
If you don’t already know the right people, here’s how to find some.
Finding a great contractor isn’t easy. Contractors can be hard to get in touch with, overly expensive, slow to complete projects, or even just vanish partway through a job. Finding a great contractor that you can count on to work with you honestly and efficiently for the foreseeable future is like finding a four leaf clover…growing on the back of a unicorn…that lays golden eggs. So of course, we’re going to try to talk you through the process.
Start by Collecting Recommendations
There’s no substitute for experience — except someone else’s experience. If you don’t know a great contractor already, your best bet is to ask people that are likely to know and use contractors themselves. Other property managers, friends that are flippers or recently remodeled or renovated, real estate agents, and builders are all good bets to ask. If none of those pan out, go to your local Home Depot, Lowe’s, or the equivalent, and ask the people in charge of the rehab program who they recommend. Some of them will be offended that you asked, but most of the time, you’ll get an honest answer from a guy who knows his stuff.
A Solid Reputation Online Is a Distant Second
If you’ve tapped that well and it’s run dry without stumbling on a great contractor, go the digital route. Look up contractors in your area, and run their names through the BBB, Yelp, Angie’s List, and any other local review sites you’re aware of. If you come across a contractor that has significantly more positive reviews than negative ones and has a decent grade from the BBB, you’ve got someone to try out. Look out for any that have no negative reviews — those are the ones that have someone working for them to scrub the Internet of negative messaging. You don’t want a marketer that builds things on the side, you want a contractor — they’re in the kind of occupation that never makes everyone happy.
The Last Ditch: Call Around
If you just can’t find any contractors that make you excited to talk to them, just call their office and start asking questions. In general, it’s a good idea to ask these questions anyway — you’d just prefer to do so knowing that your contractor has a solid reputation. Barring that, however, the best you can do is just start at the top of the list and call every one of them, asking them:
- Are you licensed, insured, and bonded? Can you prove it?
- Do you have experience working a job like the one I’d like to hire you for? Can you tell me where and how long ago that was?
- Can you give me a few references of satisfied customers you’ve worked with in the past few months?
- Are you certified by any trade organizations? How long ago did you get certified?
- How many man-hours do you expect to dedicate to my project each week? How many other projects are you working on in parallel?
- Can you provide me with a solid completion date that includes clean-up?
- What guarantees or warranties can you give me?
- Can you give me an itemized price estimate? How do you deal with change orders?
- How much of a down payment do you expect? (A large amount can indicate that their company can’t afford the materials they need to get started — a very bad sign.)
In short, spend five or twenty minutes chatting with each contractor (and/or their receptionist) about the answers to all of these questions. Cross off any that fail your basic ‘do I trust these answers’ test, and any who have the ‘wrong’ answers to more than one or two of the questions. When all is said and done, any left are probably decent enough to keep you from firing them — then it’s just a question of trying them on-site until you find one you feel comfortable working with.