Many homeowners begin remodel projects assuming they will be stressed out and frustrated before the project is complete. Some worry they will be taken advantage of. Sadly, these concerns are sometimes well founded because so many contractors struggle to do what they say they will do. And yes, some even take advantage of their clients.
Thankfully, these high stress experiences and the contractors that cause them can be avoided!
The good news is that there are quality contractors in every trade. The homeowners who understand the difference between referrals, references, and reviews, and invests the time to use them effectively can find and hire a great contractor!
References – References generally take two forms:
1. A brief but glowing statement by a previous customer on the company’s web site or literature that rarely gives the full name or contact info.
2. The name and contact info for a few previous customers who have agreed to take calls from prospective customers who are considering the contractor for a project.
The problem with company-supplied references is obvious: the company will naturally choose past clients that will speak well of them and exclude the rest.
On a scale of 1-10, references get a 2 for reputation research value.
Referrals – Personal referrals can be great because of the relational aspect. When someone you trust is willing to put their reputation on the line to recommend a contractor they have hired, you gain from their experience and can hire with greater confidence that you will have a good experience.
But what if their project was unusually problem free, super simple, or was the only project the contractor had going at the time? What if your friend simply got lucky on their project?
By using personal referrals alone, you might be out of luck if you run into problems, have a complicated project, or hire the contractor when he’s taken on too much work.
On a scale of 1-10, personal referrals get a 5.5 for reputation research value.
Reviews - Online reviews are powerful, but care is still required to read and interpret them properly. Follow these 3 steps when reading online reviews:
- Start with Angie’s List, then read Google, Yelp, and Houzz. Angie’s list is by far the most comprehensive and reliable source for online reviews because the contractor has little influence over what is posted.
- Read them all; the good, bad, and the ugly. Pay particular attention to the reviews that describe challenges and how the contractor dealt with them. And most importantly, read the responses by the contractor to comments made by past customers. Are they professional and composed, or are they snarky and abrupt?
- Determine if the reviewer actually hired the contractor. Unfortunately, there are some online review snobs who write nasty things about contractors they’ve never hired! Some people take great offense if their first call wasn’t answered immediately or because the bid was higher than expected, and thus believe a poor review is justified even though they didn’t hire the contractor.
On a scale of 1-10, online reviews are a solid 9 for reputation research value.
In this day and age, it is easier than ever to find a contractor you can trust if you are willing to do the research. Just remember the difference between references, referrals, and reviews so you will be able to determine if the contractor has a track record of doing what they said they would do!
The fake or deliberately unfair reviews are pretty easy to spot and sort out. You want the professional contractor who treats people well and has good reviews from people for whom he actually worked.