Houses need work. I know. I own a few. But when I have a repair job I can’t always rely on my husband. I wish I could. He’s a fantastic finishing carpenter and a reputable, reliable general contractor, but these qualities also mean he’s busy. Very busy.
Of course, I’m lucky. Because my husband is a general contractor he knows tradesmen for a variety of repair jobs. Got a problem with your copper pipes? We have a plumber. Have a few holes in your wall? We know great tapers and drywallers. And I have to say that our electricians are some of the best (and sweetest) in the business. But what if we weren’t a household full of construction tools and know-how? What if we had to find reliable and reputable contractors and we didn’t have these professional tradesmen on speed-dial?
That’s when I started my search. I found some great advice but no matter what I read I found flaws in the foundation, plugged pipes, leaks in the boat. Sad truth is: There’s a real disconnect when trying to find reliable home renovation contractors and repairmen.
The problem is that we’re all trying to avoid paying for poor workmanship or, worse still, finding out that the cost-efficient handyman we hired actually did more damage than good.
So, how can a home owner find reliable and reputable contractors and tradesmen? Here’s a few tips when finding a contractor:
1) Do: Piggy-back on other people’s due-diligence
When we ask friends for contractor recommendations, we’re really piggy-backing on their due diligence. We’re assuming that if they feel comfortable about recommending a plumber, electrician or general contractor it’s because they’ve done their own due diligence. This is probably the best way to find a contractor or licensed tradesman so you’re first order of business is: ask your friends and family for referrals.
2) Do: Look for a sign
I mean this literally: look for signs. When you’re driving, walking or biking through your neighbourhood keep your eyes peeled for signs that advertise contractors working in your area. Very often these contractors have already been vetted by the home owner (see Tip #1: Piggy-back on other people’s due-diligence) and, more importantly, these contractors don’t mind putting a name to their work. If a contractor is willing to display a sign that includes their name and contact info (either a phone number or website) then you know they are proud of their work, and they don’t mind hearing from you, the would-be client.
3) Do: Get professional referrals
If you’re friends and family don’t know a good tradesman or contractor consider expanding your referral search to professionals you’ve done work with in the past. You could ask, for instance, your local realtor, lawyer, banker, even your financial planner. All these professionals will come into contact with other professionals, including contractors. Since it’s their business to keep their clients happy they have a stronger incentive to only recommend reputable renovation contractors.
4) Do: Go online (but only as a preliminary search)
Now, here’s where the wheels fall off the cart. While I’m a big fan of online searches, I’m not a big fan of using online referral or aggregate sites in isolation. And it’s those last two words that are so important.
Fact is, I know a bus-load of people that have hired great plumbers, carpenters or general handymen using these sites. I could also fill another bus—and not a short bus—of people that have nothing but complaints regarding a so-called professional they’d found online. For instance, The Star ran a sad, sad story about a family who ended up with an open pit in their backyard after the contractor they’d found on HomeStars.com declared bankruptcy. (Full disclosure: My husband’s firm is also on Homestars.com, so I’m not trying to say that all listings are from shady characters.)
The problem isn’t with the referral sites, per se, it’s that online sites can be gamed. As recently as November 2014, CBC Marketplace aired a show on the business of pumping up testimonials and fake reviews.
Sadly, the business of online reviews created another brand of business—one that specializes in buying, finding or creating online testimonials and reviews. It’s a business my husband was forced to reckon with when he joined an extremely popular site early last year. Shortly after uploading his company information he started getting weekly calls and emails from the website’s personnel. They were trying to sell him on their “online testimonial” service. By paying a fee, they would call his former clients, friends and associates and get referrals, which they would then post online on behalf of their clients. Or so he was told. On the whole, there’s nothing wrong with this type of service but my husband didn’t think it was a wise way to spend his limited marketing dollars. He does little marketing as it is and when he does it’s very targeted, making a general catch-all referral website pretty low on his marketing plan. So he opted to forego the service. Within a few months—and despite a handful of genuine testimonials from repeat clients—my husband’s company listing disappeared from all general contractor searches on this website. I guess he didn’t pay enough to be included in the referral service.