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Ask the Builder: Do your due diligence before hiring a contractor. Yeah, it’s hard

The woman who used to own this uncompleted house didn’t do her due diligence. A contractor now owns it and is trying to finish it two years after the foundation hole was dug. (Tim Carter/Tribune Content Agency)
The woman who used to own this uncompleted house didn’t do her due diligence. A contractor now owns it and is trying to finish it two years after the foundation hole was dug. (Tim Carter/Tribune Content Agency)

This column was inspired by something that happened to my sister last week. She called me for advice because she needed a tree removed from her rear yard, and she didn’t know any reliable tree-removal companies.

Perhaps you’ve been in the same situation recently over a repair or other home project. Based on the number of emails I receive each week, I see a growing and alarming trend of people who are so busy, stressed and discombobulated that all they want is the easy button. They want the mythical magic home improvement fairy to float down out of the sky and place the best contractor in their driveway. That’s a fantasy.

My sister subscribes to my newsletter, and she knows that I promote one of the national contractor referral networks. Here’s what happened to my sister, and it may have happened to you. She filled out the form at my website to get quotes from the prescreened tree removal companies in Cincinnati. Guess what. There was only one in the network – or at least only one that responded.

The company sent an employee who could only speak a few words of English, the only language my sister speaks. She told me, “He stood 15 feet away from the front door and just kept saying the word ‘tree.’ ”

Frustrated, my sister closed the door on him, and I imagine he drove away. So much for prescreening professionals.

What’s the answer? What are you to do when you need a pro to fix something for you?

Here are some facts to help you find the pros. In almost all cities and towns, there are craftsmen and craftswomen who do have integrity and who take pride in their work.

In most cities and towns, there are a small group of tradespeople who do things the right way and know to buy the best products because failed products on jobs make profits disappear.

The best contractors and sub-contractors usually don’t advertise, nor do they belong to the contractor networks like HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List. They don’t have to. They get booked out months in advance just from word-of-mouth promotion from their past satisfied customers. This is an often overlooked fact.

The best contractors typically purchase the best products and materials from local businesses, not giant national brands. The best products and materials are not always at the giant home center big box stores. It’s amazing how a multimillion-dollar advertising budget can make you think otherwise.

You’ll often find the best products and materials at the traditional lumberyards that still exist in most larger cities and towns. You may also find some at the old-fashioned hardware stores in your neighborhood.

The best contractors use the best products because they don’t want to have to come back and fix something. They don’t want you upset. They want to be working on the next job, not be back at your house redoing work.

Weeks and months before you need the work done, you need to start to find the great contractors. Why? The great contractors have a backlog of work.

You get the list of these great workers when you talk with the general manager of the local lumberyards or the owners or managers of the local hardware stores. You ask them bluntly, “Please be kind enough to share with me the names of the three best contractors that come in here that you would have work on your home.”

In the old days, my sister would have just opened the Yellow Pages or looked in the newspaper classified ads for the names of tree removal companies. Those were the reliable search engines before the internet.

I instructed her to just type this into an online search engine: “tree removal Cincinnati.” She’s currently getting quotes and making sure they all have current general liability insurance and are in good standing with the state of Ohio Workmen’s Compensation program.

There is no easy button. You need to do the hard work ahead of time if you want to get the best workers in exchange for your hard-earned money. I’m sorry, but that’s the tough-love truth.

Tim Carter can call you on the phone for free to solve your problem. Go to his website and fill out the form on this page: https://www.askthebuilder.com/ask-tim/


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