What should you look for when choosing an electrical, HVAC or any home service contractor? Well there’s a lot more to it than you might think. In fact, let’s start with the simple matter of how comfortable you feel inviting a stranger into your home. Many homeowners don’t stop to think about this until the contractor is already inside your home. Have you ever had a contractor or technician walk through your door, and the minute he’s inside you feel just a little bit uncomfortable? Well that’s why it’s critical to make the right choice before you make the appointment. So to give you more confidence in selecting a contractor we’re outlining six important things to look for in making your selection:
Look for a company that can provide a technician that is drug free and has had a thorough criminal back ground check. It’s not something many people think about until it’s too late, but anyone who might feel uncomfortable at home alone with a service technician deserves to be safe from harm, including; women at home alone or with small children, elderly homeowners, disabled individuals, or anyone who is concerned about their personal safety and the security of their home and belongings. While it is not our intent to scare anyone, we feel obligated to mention that on occasion employees of home services contractors do commit criminal acts against homeowners. For example:
* A Florida woman was killed by a registered sex offender who was performing duct cleaning in her home. If the company he worked for had performed a back-ground check maybe this could have been prevented.
* In another instance, a service technician in the Minneapolis area was convicted on several counts for stealing from customers’ homes. Not the type of guy you want to let out of your sight in your house.
* A 34 year old woman hired a “contractor” to help her with some interior remodeling. Unfortunately for her, the “contractor” broke into her home at 11 pm at night, stood over her bed with a knife and then attempted to sexually assault her. After the “contractor’s” arrest local police stated that “He’s a predator” and started an investigation into similar crimes the “contractor” may have committed.
As you can see selecting a company that can provide a drug free technician with no criminal back ground is critical. You can minimize your risk when hiring a home services contractor by going with a contractor who displays the Technician Seal of Safety. The Technician Seal of Safety symbol was established to let you know at a glance which contractors stand out from the crowd when it comes to protecting the safety of you and your family. Each company bearing the Technician Seal of Safety is a member of a professional organization that advocates the use of pre-employment background checks and drug testing as allowed by law. Now, many contractors in the home services business do not bother to practice such stringent policies. But that’s what distinguishes these elite contractors from the rest. When you see the Technician Seal of Safety you know you’re dealing with a professional who cares about your personal safety. To learn more you can check out www.mysafetyseal.com
The technician should be wearing a clean, neat uniform that clearly shows the company name. He should be able to produce a picture ID or driver’s license when asked. He should arrive in well maintained, organized service truck that clearly displays the company name. The technician should be professional, courteous and polite at all times. He should keep his work area organized and clean up the entire work area when he is finished. The technician should thoroughly explain exactly what work he will be doing and why it needs to be done. Be careful of any technician not willing to explain his work. Ask for references when you call the company to make sure their technicians are reliable, friendly and helpful.
Beware of any contractor that asks you for payment before he starts the job. A contractor asking for upfront payment could be financially unstable. He may be unable to buy the proper supplies or pay his employees. You may not have heard of “mechanic’s liens” but they can result in a huge nightmare for homeowners. A mechanic’s lien is a legal claim that can be filed against your home by anyone who supplies labor or materials to fix, repair or improve your home. The word “anyone” includes not only the contractor you hire but may also include any subcontractors or material suppliers that your contractor hires (who may be totally unknown to you). When you hire a contractor to work on your home, the last thing you expect is the “surprise” of a mechanic’s lien being filed in the public records against your own home. But that can easily happen if the contractor you hire fails to pay its subcontractors or material suppliers even after you pay your contractor. Worst of all, you may never know if your contractor has paid its subcontractors or material suppliers until the day you get served with a lawsuit announcing that your own home has been slapped with a mechanic’s lien by “unpaid” subcontractors or material suppliers.
A contractor that is financially unstable is more likely to cut corners and to use sub-standard materials resulting in a repair or installation that doesn’t last as long as it should or meet minimum safety standards.
A contractor asking for upfront payment may know that he will not be able to finish the job on time or to your satisfaction. He may be trying to get as much of your money as he can before you get frustrated with him. I have seen this happen many times over the years, usually this is how it goes; the homeowner makes a sizable upfront payment, the contractor begins to do some work but after a short period of time he leaves. After several phone calls to locate him and a few days he comes back and does a little more but leaves again. This cycle repeats and gets worse until the frustrated homeowner finally has enough. They must now start over with another contractor. Many times it is more difficult and time consuming for the next contractor to finish the job than it would have been to do the job from the start. The homeowner ends up paying more money and wasting a lot more time than they could have.
Finally there are some “contractors” who are really just scam artists. They have no intention of ever doing any work; they just want to grab your cash and go. These guys are predators that usually target the elderly or other unsuspecting, trusting individuals. They give our entire industry a bad reputation and have no place in it.
In some cases it may be appropriate to pay a deposit for a special order item or a part that can’t be returned, however this should be a small percentage of the total cost. If your contractor asks for a large upfront payment, don’t use him!
Your contractor should have all required licenses for your city, county and state. He should be able to produce copies of these when asked and you should review them to make sure they are current. The license should show the contractor’s name, the license number and an expiration date. Everyone knows the dangers of someone getting behind the wheel without a driver’s license required by the state. So why would you let a “contractor” into your home that doesn’t have the proper licenses required by the state? “Contractors” that choose to operate without the required legal licenses are making a choice not to comply with a very basic law designed to protect the public. If a “contractor” chooses to break the law by refusing to have the required legal licenses, you may want to ask that “contractor” about any other laws they may have chosen to break.
A contractor should have general liability insurance. The general liability insurance would pay for any damage caused by the contractor or any damage resulting from his work. This is important because it protects you from bearing the financial burden of repairing the damage. As bad as it would be to deal with damage to your home due to something a contractor has done, it would be even worse if you or your insurance company had to pay for it. If your insurance company pays for the damage they will probably raise your rates or even cancel your insurance. Don’t put yourself at risk by using a contractor without current general liability insurance.
A contractor should also have worker’s compensation insurance. The worker’s compensation insurance would pay the costs if a worker is injured while working at your home. Many homeowners don’t realize that without worker’s compensation insurance they would be liable for the medical costs of a worker injured in their home. How would you like to turn your spare bedroom into a recovery room for a contractor’s technician for the next several months? Not very appealing is it, the point is just don’t put yourself in a position where you may be liable. It is much better to use a contractor with worker’s compensation insurance than to take a chance.
It is a good idea to request certificates of insurance for general liability and worker’s compensation and review them to make sure they are current. A professional contractor will have no trouble providing this for you upon request. If a contractor can’t provide current proof of insurance don’t use him.
Make sure you get a guaranteed price in writing before the work begins. A professional technician will take as much time as necessary to thoroughly analyze your job. After looking everything over he should be able to give you a guaranteed price in writing. This can not be done over the phone. Watch out for contractors that quote prices over the phone. Electrical and HVAC systems can vary greatly from house to house. An onsite analysis is the only way to determine exactly what is required to do the job properly and safely. There is often more than one way for the job to be done.
A professional technician will take the time to explain all of your options for the job and help you decide which is best for you. If the technician quotes an hourly rate you still have no guaranty what the total cost of the job will be. The cost will depend on how long it takes him to do the job. If he has nothing else to do that day he may make your job last all day when it really should only take a couple of hours. If he’s just slow, inefficient or doesn’t have the right parts with him the job will take too long and cost too much. On the other hand if he’s in a hurry to finish he may make a mistake or overlook a hazardous condition. I’ve seen several mistakes made by technicians who were rushing to complete a job as quick as possible.
When a technician is working on something as important as your electrical or HVAC system he needs to be focused on making sure he gets the job right the first time. Let’s say you call a technician that works by the hour. You take time out of your busy schedule to meet him, after a couple of hours he says it’s fixed; you pay him and he’s on his way. A few days later you begin to have the same problem, so you take more time out of your schedule to meet him again plus you have to pay for his time, again. You can see how this can cost you extra money and take up more of your valuable time. By getting a guaranteed price up front, in writing you have the peace of mind of knowing what the total investment will be and the technician can get the job done right the first time.
A contractor should provide a written warranty on any repair or installation in your home of at least one year. This warranty should cover his workmanship as well as any parts or materials he supplied. If he is unwilling to do this or does not provide a warranty in writing don’t use him! His warranty, or lack of one, will tell you something about the quality of his work, his level of skill and the materials he uses. A contractor trying to cut corners to deliver cheap service will use inferior materials which won’t last as long or perform up to the standard of quality materials. If he doesn’t provide a written warranty he probably knows his “fix” isn’t going to last long.
What seems like a good deal because of the low initial price isn’t really a good deal after all because you have to pay him or someone else to fix it again. Some so-called technicians simply “fix it” so they can “fix it” again; you don’t want to get into that cycle of wasting money and time. If your contractor tells you he has a warranty but does not provide the warranty in writing, it will be very difficult, if not impossible; to prove that he ever offered you one. Buyer beware! The professional contractor should be happy to provide a written warranty because his technicians are highly trained experts and they only use high quality materials. This may require a little more investment in the beginning, but it will save you money and time in the long run. By getting a written warranty you can be assured that you won’t have to pay for the same repair over and over again.
Look for a contractor that will provide a satisfaction guarantee. This will help to ensure the job will be done the way you want. Even when the contractor is professional, understands all the safety codes and provides a warranty you will be disappointed if the job is not done neatly and to your standards. It can be very frustrating to be left with a huge mess, damage to your home, or poor workmanship. Many repairs or installations can be technically correct and pass an inspection but have a shoddy appearance. Your home is one of your largest investments, don’t let sloppy or careless technicians diminish the value of your investment. By getting a satisfaction guarantee up front you will be assured that everything will be done according to your standards, this puts the responsibility on the technician to make sure you are satisfied.
A contractor that provides a satisfaction guarantee will perform all of his work to the highest standards and take great care of your home throughout the process. When he knows that he won’t get paid unless and until you are happy don’t you think he will be motivated to do a great job?