I can’t tell you how many people have told me horror stories about working with contractors. They are notorious for being unreliable, stealing money, being sloppy, and generally difficult to work with. There ARE good contractors out there, you just have to dig for them!!
A wise man once said “You can only have two: inexpensive, fast, or good quality.” Which I believe generally rings true. It takes some time to sift through contractors and find one that works for you. I’ve found its best to stick to referrals from other people, but in case you cannot find a referral I’ve put together a few ways that I’ve found contractors.
Yes, the number one way is to contact friends, trusted advisors, family members or anyone that owns a house and has work done. Hands down, do this one first before anything else. If you have connections with people in the real estate business you can try asking them for referrals too, but sometimes people do not want to give up their favorite contractors.
Sometimes you have to put the word out there and let people know what your looking for. Now we can post things on Instagram or Facebook. You never know who might have a recommendation.
2. Consultant recommendation
This is one way, but probably not the best way. This is how I found my contractor, but it definitely had its drawbacks. My contractor was way over schedule because he was extremely busy. He had some good quality contractors on his team, but it was very difficult to get them on the job sometimes.
I was always wondering when things went wrong “Why would my consultant recommend this guy??” which was a definite pain point in my renovation process. Try to avoid it, but in the end if this is your only qualified candidate just do your research on them.
Thumbtack has been an awesome way of connecting contractors with local clients. I used Thumbtack to find my contractor in the rental property renovation (the home I purchased after taking out a HELOC on my 203k property). Its pretty similar to Angie’s List or Houzz but more low key. I like the interface on the mobile app and have found the people on there to be more tech savvy and motivated. Since its a new system, I feel I can trust that it hasn’t been inundated with fake reviews or paid for positive feedback. It feels genuine and generally trustworthy.
4. Angie’s List
An oldie but goodie. When I renovated my house Thumbtack was not as popular, so Angie’s List was a great way to find a plethora of contractors. In the Philadelphia area there are TONS so it was a little difficult to weed through them. Pick out a couple and then reach out to them. I’ve found a lot of contractors listed on Angie’s List are pretty busy, so you will need to reach out to a few before getting a response.
5. Take note of work vans in the neighborhood
There is no better evidence of people showing up for work than them literally being on a job site. Its especially beneficial when they are already working in your neighborhood. Take a look around and when you see a work truck or marketing materials around construction sites take a photo. I like to snap pictures anytime I see work vans that look like they are in good condition (ie. no graffiti vans or rust buckets!!).
6. Local REIA Meet up Groups
Once I got more invested into Real Estate I started going to the Philadelphia REIA meet-ups. At every event there is a set time for networking. This is a great opportunity to get linked up with other investors, contractors, lenders, consultants, wholesalers, and anyone interested in real estate. Go there and let people know what you’re looking for. If you talk to one person who doesn’t have a recommondation they can probably point you to someone who might.
7. Bigger Pockets
Bigger Pockets is the holy grail of Real Estate investing resources. You can search there for contractors and start talking to people in your area. The more people you reach out to the better your chances of finding the right contractor to work with.
Next door is another mobile app I recently started using. You sign up based on what zip code you live in and can interact with neighbors by posting, replying to posts, direct messaging people, even selling things on the marketplace. It’s a great way to get in touch with neighbors and get referrals through here. You may also find a contractor directly through here looking for work.
Once you have narrowed your list down I recommend doing a few more things to get to know them and held make your decision.
Visit one or two of their project sites. Take the time to go see what it’s like to work with them. If you can, try to see their projects at various stages. Its helpful to see how they are during the process and then a final button-up product. Do they leave their job site in complete disrepair at the end of the day? Are they getting all their permits done? Are they covering up items that should be properly abated; ex knob and tube wiring or asbestos.
Ask for at least 3 references and talk to them all. Don’t compromise here. Make a list of questions to ask them and ask them all the same questions. You’ll need to compare answers and check for consistency. Ask what their scope of work was and how it was to work with them. Note any red flags and take them seriously. What may seem like a little concern could be the tip of the iceberg.
Have a more casual conversation with them. Business is business, but you need to be able to get along with them. The person I hired for my 203k Renovation was a strategic choice, but I had another contractor that would have been more enjoyable to work with. In the end renovations can be long and sometimes, stressful, process so it’s easier to go through it with someone you can get along with. You don’t want to be gritting your teeth every time you have to talk to them, so don’t pick someone who makes sense on paper but you personally cant stand.
After completing these steps trust yourself and trust your gut. Sometimes red flags are not so obvious, but your gut will know! After you’ve worked with someone you may find that person knows a great electrician, or plumber. You will start collecting reputable contractors and find someone that works well with you.