Selecting a Contractor: Apples or Oranges?

When looking for a home project to be done, big or small, most of us compare at least three contractors to find the best one (and if you do not, you should!). What is one of the biggest and final deciding factors in making a decision? Well, most people would say the price. For many, price is the most important thing when choosing a contractor. What people don’t know, however, is that they are often not comparing the same thing. Price is only a valid point of comparison when comparing apples to apples, not apples and oranges.

 First things first: is the contractor licensed? If they are, great! They have passed the very first test. If not, dump them. It is dangerous on many levels to have an unlicensed contractor working on your home. If something happens, you have no channels with which to file an official complaint, and they may have no legal responsibility to fix the problem. Also, remember that being registered with a building organization is different from being licensed. Registration requires a simple fee, while licensing requires construction knowledge and certain qualifications to be met.

To find out if the company is licensed, first check the contractor’s website. Some companies, such as Zelaya Properties, LLC, have a link to their license on the state website. Here, you may also see any complaints that have been filed against a contractor. Look for someone who does not have any complaints filed against them in the past three years. One or two complaints are usually okay, but be sure to check with the references that the contractor can provide to you.

Another important factor is insurance. It is best if the company has both liability insurance and workers’ compensation. If a company is uninsured, you could be left with heavy financial damages that you cannot pay for. Also, workers’ compensation can protect you from an injured worker pursuing you for damages.

 Next, you should make sure that the contractor has experience and good references. Someone you know personally and trust is the best way to find a contractor, and therefore the best reference. However, a contractor that you don’t know yet can be just as good (or better) than the guy that fixed your sister’s friend’s sink. Even if you do want to consider that contractor, you must still check multiple references on each candidate. If a contractor cannot provide references, can only provide a few, or provides references who speak badly of the company, it is a sign that they are inexperienced or do not do quality work.

When you have found three candidates who have experience, quality references, and who have the paper background of a reputable company, then you should start to look at pricing. Even among companies that seem to have similar experience and qualifications, there can be a huge difference in price range. Many companies give you the lowest price possible for their initial estimate – using the cheapest materials and the shortest possible working time that they can to come up with the number. Companies like Zelaya Properties, LLC use medium grade materials for their initial estimate, unless the customer specifies otherwise. However, some companies use builder grade materials to produce that number. Basically, this means that the materials barely pass the minimum qualifications for building material. Before making the ultimate decision in choosing a contractor, you should get a second estimate in which you can choose the materials that are the best fit for you. Generally, the price increases a little from the first to the second estimate, but, unless you want the highest quality materials available, a huge increase in price can be a red flag to more unforeseen costs down the road.

Again, this is a question of if you are comparing apples to apples, or apples and oranges. Making sure that you are looking at the same quality of service and materials, with the same level of safety and insurance for you, is the most important thing when comparing contractors.