For some of us, the bigger the house (or the less “handy” we are), we have to do this more often than we’d like to.
Working with an independent contractor can be a little nerve-wracking because you’re effectively giving an element of control to someone else. You become dependent on them, their schedule, and whatever price they charge. Plus, then there is the stress of wanting to ensure that you’re really going to get everything you’re paying for.
I had the pleasure of working with tons of independent contractors at one of my previous jobs. This has helped me pickup a lot of tips and useful strategies for partnering with them to get the best possible outcome: Both professionally and at home.
Here are my 12 tips for how to hire an independent contractor and not getting ripped off in the process.
1- Always get three quotes.
When I’m hiring a contractor or pretty much buying anything, I always follow one important rule: Get at least three quotes.
Getting three quotes helps to ensure that you are getting the best price. I’ve had times when I really liked a contractor and thought that they were giving me a really good price. But then I’d call to get two more only to find their price was way above the norm. By getting at least three quotes, you’ll have a much better sense of what the true price for this scope of work should be.
2- Never work with a contractor who won’t give you a free estimate.
You should never, ever have to pay for a quote from a contractor. The only time this would be acceptable is if you live far away. When you live local, it should be absolutely no problem.
Giving free quotes is the nature of contractor work. Remember that if anyone ever tries to charge you, there are plenty of other ones out there who will give you one for free instead.
To be safe, always ask before inviting the contractor out. That way neither of you will be surprised.
3- Never work with a contractor who won’t give you a ballpark estimate over the phone.
One of the best and easiest ways to get a quick idea about pricing is to call around and ask for ballpark estimates. However don’t be surprised if some people refuse to do this.
In my experience, I have found that most reputable contractors have done enough work to be able to give you a decent ballpark estimate over the phone. Anyone that won’t is either being difficult or over-thinking the project.
You just have to remember: A ballpark estimate is simply a guess. Once they see your actual project, the price might change. So be prepared for this.
4- Be specific with your request.
One of the worst things about working with contractors is when they show up on the day of the job and suddenly change their tune. They are abruptly “surprised” by the total scope of work, and either can’t do the whole job or want more money.
Who knows the reasons … Maybe it wasn’t quoted properly. Or maybe one or both of you forget an important detail.
The best way to help ensure a proper quote and to help the contractor plan for success is to be very specific in your initial request. Get an email address or phone number where you can communicate back and forth with the contractor. Write down exactly what you need and add photos if possible. This way, you will be able refer back if the plans start to take a wrong turn.
5- Always get the final price in writing.
After you’ve invited a contractor out to quote the job, always get their best and final price in writing. Never accept just a verbal offer. This way the price can’t suddenly “change” later on.
6- Always actually read your quotes.
This one may sound obvious, but its an important step that is often over-looked. When receiving and comparing quotes from contractors, be sure to actually read them.
Don’t just look at the price. Read each line to see what the price includes: Labor, materials, etc. For example: If the quote is to paint a room in your house, does it also include the contractor covering the cost of the paint? Or are you expected to provide the paint yourself?
Also make sure that it describes the scope of work as the two you understand it.
7- Get a referral for a good contractor.
One of the best places to start when looking for contractors is to ask around. Your friends, family, and coworkers probably know someone to hire. Or who to stay away from.
Don’t forget you can greatly expand your circle of referrals by leveraging social media. We’ve asked for recommendations on Facebook and got lots of great feedback from acquaintances.
8- Check the contractor’s online reputation.
You can learn a lot about a contractor’s history by looking them up online first. One simple place I like to start is with Google reviews. I’ve read comments from past upset customers who told stories about poor customer service and shady practices. I’d only look at folks with 4 stars and above.
9- Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
Now comes the fun part of saving money with contractors – negotiation!
Don’t ever be afraid to ask for a lower price. This is the true value of getting three quotes. Usually your best bet is not always the lowest price. BUT by using your other quotes as leverage, you could make it be!
Call your leading contactor and leverage your lowest offer. Maybe the contractor will reduce their price and maybe they won’t. But you’ll never know until you try.
10- Know your materials prices.
If your project involves replacing another piece of materials or equipment, then by all means: Look up the price for the new piece online first.
Knowing the price of the equipment will not only help you from being ripped off, but it will also help your negotiation skills when you go to discuss a possible reduction in price.
In fact, you may find it cheaper to buy the piece of equipment yourself and hire someone to just do the labor part. I did this exact scenario with a new motor for my pool. The contractor wanted $600 for the motor, but I was able to find the same exact thing for $300 online. I bought it and hired an electrical contractor to put it in. Money saved!
11- Always ask to see the old parts.
If the contractor is replacing something, always ask to see the old part before they leave. This is another way to help ensure that you were not ripped off and the parts you are getting are really “new”. Plus, technically the old parts legally belong to you anyways.
12- Keep an activity log.
Over the years I’ve found it extremely helpful to keep a list / log of all the contractors I’ve called or worked with. That way I’ll always have a written record of who I called, what work was done, and the prices I was given.
Also – if I was ever “burned”, a giant red “X” goes in my log that reminds me to never use that contractor ever again!
Featured image courtesy of Flickr