Hiring a Contractor Checklist: What Do You Need To Know When Hiring a Contractor?
“I was shocked and embarrassed when I found out that contractors were America’s #1 most complained about industry,” Stephanie Vanderbilt, Owner
So You’re Thinking About Replacing Your Windows, Roof, Siding, or Doors?
When done properly, replacing your windows, doors, roof, or siding can make your home more enjoyable and prove to be a valuable investment. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard horror stories about home remodeling projects gone bad. Problems with longer-than-expected installation, final bills that come in higher than the quote, and shoddy workmanship, sadly, are commonplace. I was shocked and embarrassed to find out that, according to Better Business Bureau statistics, home improvement contractors are in the top 1% most complained about industries—right up there with auto repair and airlines. We’ve always done a good job and treated our customers right—and we’ve been able to build a nice business because of it. However, over the years I’ve noticed that some consumers will choose less-than-reputable companies to do jobs for them, usually because they are quoted less money. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for good, honest competition, but it pains me to see good folks from in the service area we cover from lower Maine and New Hampshire, to the greater Boston area down to the south shore of Massachusetts risk their hard-earned money with contractors who have don’t have their best interests at heart. You deserve a great value for your money, which includes an honest contractor who uses high-quality products and stands behind their work in both word and deed.
Industry Standards Weren’t Tough Enough
I wanted to find a way to educate consumers about how to choose a good, honest home improvement contractor in the New England area. The industry standards simply aren’t tough enough; just about anybody with a hammer and a pickup truck can be a contractor—”chuck in a truck”—is what I am hearing from the homeowners we serve. “We got a quote on a paper napkin left in my mailbox and then he never showed up again.” That’s why I’ve pioneered a set of standards called the Code of Ethics & Competency for Remodeling Contractors. The code calls for contractors to uphold a high set of standards that will allow you to judge BEFORE hand whether or not a contractor is likely to do the job right. This guide specifies those standards. Before you hire any company to work in or around your home, make sure you consult this guide and INSIST that the company comply with EVERY SINGLE STANDARD. If you do, chances are excellent you’ll get exactly what you want out of your project, save money on your energy bills, get amazing resale value, protect and live in a comfortable home. After all, don’t we all deserve the American dream?
Replacing your windows, doors, roofing, and siding can bring a laundry list of benefits to your home. This includes increased property value, lower energy bills, and a more comfortable home. The truth is that every New England homeowner can use a hiring a contractor checklist to protect themselves through the process. We have a huge passion to inform you so you don’t get taken advantage of or lose any money. We are here to help YOU! We have your back here. Use this as your scorecard to rating the best contractor for YOUR home.
You need to make sure that any contractor you do business with has proven themselves. Don’t just ask the contractor if they are stable; look for tangible proof of longevity and financial stability by asking them following:
What To Look For: Proof of Establishment and Why It’s Important.
Believe it or not, many contractors use a pickup truck for an office and a showroom. Make sure that any contractor you’re dealing with is substantial enough to have a real office with all the normal business functions—accounting, production, sales, etc. If a contractor does not have an office, that should tell you something. Don’t fall for the “we just use our trucks as offices” line.
- A physical location/building where the contractor does day-to-day operations such as accounting, sales, and production.
- Google their address and see what you can find on Google maps. Sometimes a listed address may actually be a house or an abandoned lot.
- A bank and vendor letter: This is to showcase the security of finances as well as confirmation that the contractor has a supplier of products. You’ll also want to ensure that they are in good standing with the supplier and pay their bills. These letters are easy for your contractor to obtain from suppliers—if a contractor says they are difficult to obtain, then there might be something that they’re trying to hide.
TIP: Good standing with a bank is crucial for any business, but gaining the confidence and security of its financial managers allows a company not only to sustain itself and endure even in tough economic times but to innovate and grow to meet and service customer demands- even in a pandemic.
- Business license: You’ll want to work with a state-registered contractor. Ask for their business license number, which should be on the jobsite sign and also their contracts.
- Insurance: The contractor should carry general liability insurance with no less than $1,000,000 of coverage. If your contractor’s insurance policy can’t cover potential damages, then the contractor would be personally liable. If he cannot cover the damages himself, you will have no legal recourse and will end up paying for any possible damages or injuries yourself. Many contractors are not financially stable and don’t carry proper insurance coverage to protect you against losses. Additionally, contractors who fail to provide workers compensation benefits risk severe governmental penalties and potentially company pending lawsuits should an employee become injured. Do NOT deal with a contractor without sizable coverage, or you will foot the bill for the mistake.
Energy-efficient products are your contractor’s way of walking the walk and talking the talk. You’ll want to make sure the performance of the products are up to par. Otherwise, you won’t experience increased indoor comfort and energy savings.
- Look for Energy Star-rated products. This certification indicates that you’re investing in some of the most energy-efficient products in the industry.
- Energy Star applies to windows, doors, roofing, and siding that help lower your home’s carbon footprint while saving you more on energy bills.
- Some examples of energy-efficient technologies include argon and krypton gas for windows, as well as a low-e application on the glass panes. Energy-efficient doors contain a polyurethane foam core while energy-efficient siding comes with foam-backed panels.
- Check the NFRC label ratings to learn more about the efficiency of replacement windows.
A good contractor doesn’t just do good work. They also understand that when dealing with customers, it’s oftentimes the little things that make a big difference. You should find a contractor that shows you respect by the way they treat you, the way they treat your property, and how they pay attention to details. Check any contractor you’re considering against these standards of professionalism.
- Detailed Proposals and Contracts Most contractors provide no written bid, a basic receipt, or invoice. The minimum you should accept is a bid that details the type and amount of materials to be used. Even better than that is a detailed bid that lists measurements, estimates time spent on the job, and details the type and amount of materials to be used. Always make sure the bid has the contractor’s signature on it. In competitive bidding situations, make sure that bids are “apples to apples,” especially in the case where one bid is significantly less than others—not a good sign.
- Educational Presentation That Wows You Many unethical contractors will resort to high-pressure sales tactics to get you to buy before you’ve had an opportunity to do proper due diligence about them. If you know nothing about the contractor prior to the sales call (from literature, references, online information), and they give you a low-ball price “but only if you buy right this minute,” you should be wary. Any time you feel uncomfortable or unduly pressured in a sales environment, you should ask the contractor to “back off.” Reputable companies will have a no-tricks, no-pressure sales pledge signed by the owner, sales manager, and each sales associate. All Coastal Windows & Exteriors’ sales associates sign a Zero Sales Pressure Agreement that is also signed by our sales manager to pledge that they will handle sales situations in a respectful way.
This, of course, is our favorite part! Yes, they should educate and WOW you! The contractor should also answer all of your questions with NO sales pressure.
- Look for contractors who take their time explaining every component of their products.
- They should show you how each product works and performs. For example, you’ll need to see how the window locks work for security and performance purposes.
- You should receive thorough, detailed answers to every question that you ask.
- Steer clear of sales presentations that use tricks and pressure to get you to sign on the dotted line. This is a very important element when hiring a contractor.
TIP: Do they have a detailed contract and change-order form? If not, it’s a red flag. This is where most homeowners get taken advantage of because there is NO written contract.
Contract, Contract, Contract
Every single project, no matter how big or small, should have a contract. Every detail down to dumpster removal should be included in this contract. It should also have:
- Description of the work with brand and materials being used
- Rough estimates for start and finish dates
- Contract Price- firm; not an estimate
- Signed by BOTH the homeowner and the company representative
- Change-Order Form for ANY post-agreed work is mandatory signed again by both the homeowner and the company representative
TIP: Don’t pay more than 30% upfront, and don’t pay until you are satisfied. They should have a Certificate of Customer Satisfaction, and after you go through the project with a representative, then pay the balance. Ask to see this form.
You can tell a great deal about a contractor based on what others are saying about them, particularly their customers. The old advice of “ask for 3 references” is just too easy to fake. You’ll need to get a little tougher with your contractor to protect yourself. Insist that any contractor you’re considering can produce the things listed here to PROVE that their reputation is rock solid.
What To Look For
Every single project, no matter how big or small, should have a contract. Every detail down to dumpster removal should be included in this contract. It should also have:
- Chamber and Local Memberships: Any reputable company will be a member of at least their local Chamber of Commerce. Memberships in a trade association, like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), imply some quality and ethical integrity on the part of the contractor. You may want to call the organization to make sure their membership is current.
- Accolades, Awards & High Rated Reviews: If a contractor has been in business for any length of time—and doing a good job—they will most likely have been written about in a magazine or newspaper, received an award of some kind, or received special recognition from an association or trade organization. Any company that can’t produce at least SOME of these accolades might not be worthy of them!
TIP: Consider the contractor in question. Are they a part of your community? Check their Google Reviews.
Experience and professionalism can truly make or break how your project turns out. An inexperienced contractor will leave stones (sometimes many) unturned. Meanwhile, professionalism goes a long way in terms of how the contractor presents themselves.
One of the most critical elements of choosing an exterior remodeling contractor is the warranty. While this isn’t the most glamorous topic, it’s essential to consider for several reasons.
- A good warranty ensures the performance and durability of your products.
- You’ll want to look for companies that offer a transferable lifetime warranty.
- Be sure to have the contractor explain the length of the warranty. For example, lifetime has different definitions for each manufacturer. Some companies consider a lifetime warranty as 5 years, while others consider it as 50 years.
- Ask the contractor to explain what is covered under the warranty, such as product defects and craftsmanship. Keep in mind that there may be variations in terms of coverage. As an example, a warranty may cover product defects for 5 years but the craftsmanship/installation is covered for 25. It’s important to get these numbers straight before moving forward.
- Coastal Windows & Exteriors has transferable lifetime warranty- 50 years- on all products.
- Pella and Anderson warranty is inferior: 10 years on frame and 20 years on glass.
- Don’t always trust brands you may know—read the fine print. Not all warranties are created equal!
Experienced Team and Professionalism
- Elite Status
- Roofing contractors should have the GAF Master Elite Status. This truly sets the novices apart from the professionals. Getting a new roof shouldn’t be an exercise in pain and frustration, but some roofing contractors don’t seem to agree! When selecting a roofing contractor, look for a company that is certified GAF Master Elite. This is a sure way to be certain the contractor has earned a reputation for providing quality roofing services throughout your community. In addition, because of their factory-certified status, roofs installed by a GAF Master Elite contractor are protected by a lifetime warranty. Because of this extraordinary level of protection, only the top 3% of all roofing contractors in the nation become GAF Master Elite.
- James Hardie Elite contractors not only are backed up by James Hardie, they also get preferred pricing and stock colors, which means best pricing and shorter wait on timelines.
- All Siding contractors need to be VSI cCertified- Vinyl Siding Institute certified and trained on the specific product you are buying, not just general contractors—this is crucial! Would you trust a general surgeon to do brain surgery? NO!
- Window contractors should be AAMA and Installation Window Master Certified. Accept no other options!
- Do They Have An Experienced Team? Just about every home remodeling company will tell you that they have a “qualified staff,” but the fact is that there’s a shortage of experienced installers, craftsmen, and personnel in the remodeling industry—and lots of turnover. This makes for inconsistent—and in some cases—neglected training, as well as staff members with pretty rough edges. Look for a well-qualified and experienced staff, like the one at Coastal Windows & Exteriors.
- They should be able to supply project photos for Ideas & Inspiration. Ask to see a sample of jobs they’ve done—for inspiration for your own project, and to gauge the quality of the work they’ve done in the past. If no photos can be produced, that should be a major warning sign.
Do they use technology to build out your dream home? Ask to see thor 3D Model software to build out your project!
Coastal Windows & Exteriors understands that a home improvement project is an important step for any homeowner. We also recognize that it is not only the outcome of the completed project that is important, but also the relationship and the respect that is built from the initial meeting all the way through to the full completion of the project.
- Ask about the contractor’s job site procedure and clean-up roster. Everything is a process when it comes to home improvement projects. If there is no process, be wary of hiring that contractor.
- Every associate from the sales team to the installation crew will conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times.
- Contractors should not smoke or use foul language on the job.
- The contractor should respect your home and belongings.
- Missed calls and calls that are not promptly returned are not only unprofessional but are also red flags.
- It is our mission to offer each and every customer the peace of mind that the project and home will be cared for as if we were working on our own homes by performing at the highest levels of expectations possible on every project.
- All associates and installation crews, agree to abide by the principles of our Code of Ethics and Competency of our prospective and current customers.
- Do they have a Customer Satisfaction Certificate? This is a document that is signed by the customer at the completion of the job, certifying that the entire job has been completed to the customer’s satisfaction, and gives them an opportunity to make comments about their experience. Only upon signing of this document, is the customer obligated to pay. In normal situations, this gives the contractor a great incentive to complete jobs quickly and with the highest possible quality, and in situations where something goes wrong, it gives the customer an opportunity to provide constructive feedback so that problems are remedied in a timely manner. Don’t pay unless you’re satisfied!
Hiring a Contractor Checklist: Work with Coastal Windows & Exteriors
Choosing the right contractor is important because it’s your home, the place where you should feel safe and secure, always. Ultimately, any contractor has to be competent to do the job right the first time. Competence comes as a result of training, experience, and good old-fashioned hard work.
If you are looking for more help in addition to this hiring a contractor checklist, you can count on Coastal Windows & Exteriors. We take a fair and honest approach to exterior remodeling from the first handshake, to the final walkthrough.
Call us for a free, no-pressure estimate for energy-efficient windows, doors, roofing, and siding. We’ll be happy to answer all of your questions for FREE. As part of our commitment to our previous and potential new customers, we will set up a time to come to your home to answer your questions and concerns. At this time we can also determine if we can meet your remodeling needs. We provide this as a FREE, NO OBLIGATION service for you and your family. Hopefully we can show you, as well as many others in the New England area, how to make your home energy-efficient, cost saving, beautiful, and comfortable. Remember that when Coastal Windows & Exteriors visits your home, we are not going to use high-pressure sales tactics. It is simply a chance for us to meet you and see if our services can benefit you. If after our meeting, you believe there is no benefit to be derived from working with us, we simply leave and that is that. If, however, you do find that you would like our help, we will discuss how we proceed from there. I can’t think of a better way to work. Can you?
If you think our approach is fair and honest, please consider Coastal Windows & Exteriors for your exterior remodeling needs: Windows, Siding, Roofing, and Doors. Best of luck with your remodeling plans!
Serving New England for over 10 years (click here to see our service areas), Coastal Windows & Exteriors provides New England homeowners with quality exterior home improvement services, including replacement windows, roofing, siding, and entry door installation. Our products are carefully crafted with weather-resistant materials, engineered to protect your home through every season. We are a woman-owned, family-run company dedicated to educating New England homeowners on the importance of exterior maintenance. Contact us today for a free inspection and estimate on your next home improvement project.