I Spy-Oh My! How to find good contractors

I spy

Researching your potential contractor is important because you want to hire the best person for your job. In addition to confirming that the contractor meets the state's requirements for contracting (such as possessing needed licenses and insurance), it is also important that he or she meet certain standards of personal integrity. This is especially important when there are no state licensing and insurance regulations in place for the contractor's trade. For instance, your state's statutes may not regulate painters, carpet installers, and other tradesmen. Consequently, the burden of contractor prequalification falls on you. To determine your prospective contractor's qualification and character, public information can be reviewed. This information is readily accessible if you know where to look and what to look for.

A record of the past

There are few who would argue that “who we are today is the result of our past.” When we are young, we may be foolish and carefree, but as we age, we are expected to grow wise from our life experience and knowledge. Many of our actions and accomplishments, both good and bad, are recorded in some manner. From personal blogs to government records, there is abundant recorded information that can be analyzed. These records contain information about a person’s past actions, personal interests, and many other things of note. Through an investigation of a contractor, you will be able to determine if he or she has both the character and the competency to do your job. Before you begin this labor-intensive records search, know that the process, done correctly, is complicated and time-consuming. This is especially true of the review of legal information.

Records are everywhere

When you review a person’s past, you are doing a background check. You, as well as an attorney or investigative service provider, can perform this investigation, and the fees for the information vary. If you do the work yourself, there may be no cost. But a thorough investigation performed by a professional can range from a modest amount to thousands of dollars.

When investigating a person’s background records, it is essential to obtain as much accurate information as possible and then objectively analyze this data. Anything less and you compromise your goal, which is to accurately and fairly evaluate your contractor. Just as you do with a jigsaw puzzle, you need all the pieces and they need to be correctly assembled; anything less, the puzzle is incomplete. Additionally, some portions of your research, like some sections of a puzzle, are more easily accomplished than others.

For example, confirming a contractor’s professional license is a relatively easy task because there is little to interpret. He has a license or he does not. In contrast, interpreting his legal history can be difficult if you are unfamiliar with the complicated language of the law. Without an understanding of the legal terms, abbreviations, and their meanings, a flawed interpretation may result. If you decide to proceed with an initial look at public records, make sure you understand the information and that your information is correct and inclusive. Then strive to review the information with objectivity. Your evaluation will help you determine if a contractor meets your standards for competency and character.

The following information may help you get a general idea of your contractor’s recorded past conduct.

Legal research on individuals and their companies

Legal research can also be used as an investigative tool because it provides information about a person’s legal history as well as his company’s compliance with the law—as applicable. Legal research can provide insight into a contractor’s possible criminal and civil offenses such as drug abuse, theft, and bankruptcy.

The Clerk of Court Office is the government office that performs court-related duties such as the docketing and maintaining of civil and criminal records. Recorded documents (called instruments)—such as deeds, tax warrants, claims of lien, and marriage/death certificates—may also be recorded by the Clerk of Court Office or at a separate office such as the recorder’s or comptroller’s office. Because each government manages its records in a unique manner, the location of this information varies with each government. In the past, obtaining legal information required a visit or a phone call to the courthouse or recorder’s office. Although this is still an option, today you can access much of this information online.

Other records

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is an organization that monitors companies for sound business behavior as it relates to advertising and the sale of products and services. The BBB’s Reliability Reports contain general information about companies and the BBB’s rating of them. These ratings are based on the company’s experience, time in business, licenses, government disciplinary action, and customer complaints. Companies can seek accreditation by the BBB as a means to demonstrate that they meet BBB standards. In order to be accredited by the BBB, a company must prove sound financial history and performance and provide proof of all state-required bonds and licenses. Once the company is accredited, it must uphold BBB standards, including making reasonable attempts to resolve all consumer complaints.

Reporting websites, such as Angie’s List and Rip-Off Report, are a relatively new source of information. These sites are “for consumers, by consumers”, and they allow people to document their personal experiences with the companies and people they have done business with. But although these websites try to guarantee the accuracy of each report, you should verify each claim through further research to ensure that the report is factual.

Sometimes simply entering a contractor’s name in a search engine can provide you with relevant information. Your search may lead to his company website or to an online publication, such as a newspaper or trade journal, that contains information about him. Your search may also lead you to social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Classmates, and LinkedIn that may reveal surprising aspects of his character. From a person’s hobbies to professional associations, there is a large amount of information on the Internet that can help you develop a thorough profile.

References about previous remodel, repair, and new construction projects

Once your initial research of several contractor candidates has been performed and you have narrowed your selection down to a few, you should ask these contractors about their previous projects and request references. These references should include:

• Project client name and contact information

• Project location and description

• Original project budget and final cost

• Original scheduled completion date and actual completion date

Because references tend to be handpicked so as to shed a positive light on the contractor, it is important to ask the contractor to include his five most recent projects.

Once you receive these references, you should confirm their authenticity and accuracy with the clients. Ask the clients if they encountered any problems with the contractor and if they would hire the contractor again. This information will help you determine if the contractor has, for example, 30 years’ experience or one year of experience 30 times.

How deep to dig

With the vast amount of personal information available to the public, it is a personal decision how much time and effort should be spent investigating each contractor. You may determine that because a contractor comes highly recommended from a knowledgeable source, very little research is required. In contrast, if you know very little about the prospective contractor, you should thoroughly research his or her qualifications and character.

The Internet has become a valuable tool for this research because there is an abundant amount of information available. The challenge lies in finding accurate and relevant information. Additionally, you must have the capability to interpret this information and review it with objectivity if you are to make a fair and honest assessment. This is time-consuming to do correctly and you may decide that the cost of an attorney or investigative service provider is a worthwhile investment. Otherwise, get as much information as possible from reputable sources and strive to make fair and informed decisions based on this information.

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t. @
06:31PM on February 23, 2010
You should sell that crystal-packed helmet of yours on the site. And you could easily spot us fans on our construction sites wearing them.
Demetrice @
03:20PM on February 20, 2010
Great information to know and remember whenever anyone considers hiring a contractor. You will obviously save yourself time, money and heartache if you take the time to do an extensive background check on a contractor before building your dream home.
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