Let’s say you want your kitchen re-tiled. So you’ve posted the job on QuoteFish and received several quotes on it from tilers in your area. One of them, Sean’s Fictional Tile and Grout, looks good, has quoted right in your price range, and is located quite close to you. They seem perfect, so you go ahead and hire them.
Don’t you think you should do a little more research into them before signing a contract and handing over your money? You don’t want to end up the subject of next week’s “Cowboy Builders,” after all.
Due diligence when hiring tradesmen and builders is essential. Just like hiring a new employee, when you would do an interview and check up on what they have in their CV, you should do your best to verify that the contractor is reputable and reliable. You want to protect yourself, your money, and your project. Here are some ways to go about doing that.
1. Internet Presence and History
You already know that they have an account on Quotefish, so they’re online to some extent. Check their Quotefish account and see if we’ve verified them; we offer a background check service to jobseekers to vet their business and tell potential clients that they look legitimate. But do a little more checking around. Google the name of the company and see if they have invested in a dedicated website. Even if they don’t, there should be some online indication that they’ve done previous business. Look for reviews, but keep in mind that there’s nothing stopping them from writing their own glowing reviews and putting them on other sites. See if they’ve been reviewed on Yelp! or a similar site. Are they regularly getting good reviews, mostly okay ones, or wildly disparate love/hate? Look for consistency as well as good reviews.
A bad review among a sea of good ones shouldn’t put you off totally, though. It’s an opportunity to find out a little more about their practices. Ask them about what happened and how they dealt with it. If they’re happy to explain what happened and why, and take responsibility for it, they’ll probably be good if problems come up during your project.
Look at things like history as well. A long-standing company is not necessarily better than a newer one, but it’s probably a good indicator that they’ve had continued business.
Some service areas have accreditation and oversight organizations attached to them, like the Electrical Contractors Safety and Standards Association for electricians. If there is a relevant organization for your business, see if they are registered with it and what accreditation means. Ask what licenses and permits they need for your project and if they have them and they are up-to-date. They should be familiar with any permits you need to obtain for your project and codes that need to be adhered to.
The Irish government is currently pushing to put together a register of approved contractors and tradesmen. Hopefully this will be implemented and will give clients greater power when doing checks on potential businesses. It will also protect legitimate contractors from being undercut by “cowboy builders.”
Ask them for references and then actually follow up on them. Plenty of people assume that employers won’t check up on their references because few employers actually do. Call or email the contacts they provide. Don’t just take their word on having a good overall experience, either; ask for details. Important things to know about include work ethic, timely project completion, how they dealt with any problems that arose, and their attitude when interacting with clients. Really try to find out about the full experience of working with this business. The most important question to ask is, “Would you use this business again?” Listen to the answers and use them to make your own decision.
4. Protect yourself
Once you’ve made your decision and closed the job, lay out in your contract exactly what you want from the job and the business. Keep in mind that there are limits to what you can control with a tradesman, but you can set expectations about time limit, dealings with sub-contractors, and communication with you. Do your research on the legalities of hiring a tradesman– what you, the client, are both entitled to and responsible for, and the same for them. Agree on the budget range and how much will be paid up front– general practices says 1/3. If they start to bristle at reasonable requests or legal protection, that might be a sign they aren’t for you. Know your consumer rights and don’t be afraid to stand up for them.
This might seem like the behavior of the paranoid. We want to believe that small business contractors aren’t out to provide bad service or scam anyone, but we do have to take steps to protect ourselves. Due diligence in your hiring practices will help make sure you and your contractor get what you want out of the job.