Angie's List: Checking a contractor's references

Angie's List

Checking references can seem like a hassle, but it’s really an important step in the hiring process so that you are sure you get the right person.

You want to make sure what they are promising you is in fact true, according to our partners at the consumer guide Angie's List.

According to a nationwide Angie’s List poll:

Nearly 50 percent of respondents say they typically ask for a list of references when hiring a home improvement contractor ; nearly 20 percent said they never ask for a list of names. 44 percent said they follow up and contact those references; 13 percent do not. 36 percent never visit the projects of recent clients.

Angie Hicks advises, “When speaking with the reference be sure to ask open ended questions. Don’t ask just yes and no questions because then you are really going to get them talking and you can pick up tidbits about the experience. Because keep in mind the contractor is probably giving you references that had a good experience. You’re just really looking for a bigger picture of what it’s like to work with the contractor.”

If you really want to get the scoop on whether or not a contractor is the right fit for your home improvement project, make it a point to contact three recent customers and ask the following 9 questions,

1. What kind of work did the contractor do for you?
Was the contractor hired to provide a large-scale remodeling or improvement project, or a smaller one? What was your overall goal for the project?

2. Did you have a clear idea of what the contractor was going to do?
Did the contractor provide adequate written detail in the contract including important details such as who will be performing the work, what types of materials will be used, when the project will be started and finished, and how change orders should be handled?

3. Did you check the contractor’s credentials?
Did the references’ project require a permit from a local building department or code enforcement agency? Did the contractor have any trouble obtaining it? Beyond asking a contractor's references, make sure you know the answers to these key questions before you hire: Does the contractor carry the proper license, if required, as well as liability and workman’s compensation insurance? Are they bonded? Does your project require a permit? Can the contractor obtain one?

4. Did they show up on time?
How often did contractor or crew come to the home? What hours did they work? Did they clean up the work site at the end of each day?

5. What was working with the contractor’s crew or subcontractors like?
If the contractor wasn’t there, was there a crew leader or an employee to answer your questions or make decisions? Were they pleasant and easy to work with?

If the contractor used subcontractors, were you happy with them? Were you provided a lien waiver in the contract to guarantee you wouldn't be responsible for payments to subcontractors or material suppliers?

6. Was communication with the contractor adequate?
Did the contractor stay in touch with you throughout the project or if any changes needed to be made? Did he or she keep you apprised of the status of the project on a regular basis?

7. Did your job come in according to budget?
If not, what types of problems or delays affected the overall cost? If the project came in under budget, did you have to sacrifice anything?

8. Did you get the results you expected?
If not, why? Did they fulfill the obligations of the contract? Did they complete the work on time? If not, why? Did the work pass code inspection?

9. Would you hire this contractor again?
No one answer will say more about a contractor's work then the customer's willingness to hire them again. If they aren't willing to hire the contractor again, ask why not? Was there something particular about the contractor, their crew or the project that they didn't like?

Angie says, “I think from time to time we are going to come across contractors that we choose to work with that have less experience than others. We’ve all started out in our life, but it’s important to understand what kind of experience they do have. Maybe they are new in their business, but they worked at another company prior to that so understanding that experience. Also, any formalized training they’ve had will give your insight to their expertise in the field."

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