Finding the right contractor for your needs is like finding a lifelong partner. Much time is spent screening potential candidates, and then woo your choice into a commitment. It’s like finding a date, actually. Some people simplify the process by finding a matchmaker of a different sort making the homeowner’s life easier.
“Hiring a contractor is an intensely personal decision for any homeowner, and they want to make the right decision,” says Tom Kraeutler, nationally syndicated home improvement radio host and spokesperson for ImproveNet, a home remodeling website that features a national contractor-referral service. “A referral service can help them findcontractors that are qualified, interested, and reliable.”
Either locally or nationwide, contractor-referral services represent contractors. When a homeowner match is made with a contractor after careful screening, others would charge a lead fee. Some would only require a membership fee from the contractors. Often included in the screening are legal histories, credit histories, supplier references, work history, licensing, insurance, and bonding. “Screening is one of the biggest reasons to use a reputable referral service,” says Kraeutler.
To pick up clues about a contractor’s business, local referral services may interview a contractor in person. ‘Showing up on time, in a clean vehicle, with a lineup of good referrals and a confident attitude help us get a sense of whether this is an organized business,” says Pete Thomas of the Home Improvement Network, a Chicago-area referral service based in Mundelein, Illinois.
Interest and Acceptance
Although a contractor may be qualified to do your job, whether he wants to do it is another story. Referral services help determine both whether the contractor is available and if he is interested. The consumer first fills out a detailed questionnaire about their project. Thatinformation is sent to a database where contractors can determine the size, scope, general location, and timing of the project. Those who are interested reply to the service, and either they receive the costumer’s contact information or theirs is relayed to the customer. The customer then can research the contractors; mission statements, years in business, and areas of expertise, as well as read customer ratings and reviews.
Beyond the screening process, a good referral service provides some kind of guarantee or satisfaction. The company will step in to mediate any problems that might arise from a contract if referred.
Doing Your Homework
Homeowners should always be savvy. “You need to go in with your eyes open regarding any contractor’s referrals,” says Nina Williams, co-owner of Winans Construction in Oakland, California. “Any contractor who has been in business for a while can give references who will say positive things. It’s up to you to do your homework.” Good contractors normally have more work than they can handle, so you have to wait.
For others, referral services work out well. It is very important to know exactly what you want to be done. Have an explicit project description, including where to move the plumbing and the amount of piping. With that kind of detail, both the contractor and you will know what the scope of the project will be.