What Women Need to Know Before Hiring Contractors
The Ins and Outs of Hiring Contractors—Women Find the Best Contractors at the Best Prices While Staying Safe
While women comprise 85% of residential hiring for contractors, they are also frequent targets of price gouging and other unethical (or even criminal actions). One can’t be too careful when hiring and inviting workers into your home.
The Online Classified Ad—Women Beware!
I learned the hard way when using an online classified service for hiring handymen. The first one seemed nice enough and gave me what seemed like a reasonable deal. However, he repeatedly didn’t show up on the weekends he scheduled for doing the work. His craftsmanship was substandard. And the icing on the cake was when he stole a bunch of expensive hardware and went for lumber (with my cash), never to return.
Turns out, he was a crack addict and had gone off the wagon during his gig with me. When I did some paid research using one of those online background checkers, I found that he had been repeatedly arrested for spouse abuse and assault and battery. First point here, it pays to do a background check on your prospective handyman.
Before doing the background check, I hired another handyman using the same classified ad (I had placed), and he showed up and robbed things from my pole barn while doing a flooring estimate. My barn was broken into a few weeks later and more items were stolen.
Theft A. was documented via texts and the addict confirmed he had stolen from me but it wasn’t worthwhile for prosecutors due to the amount of money involved. I had to eat it. Theft B. could not be proven, although it was clear to me he took them, as tools went missing while he was there.
Again, it pays to do a background check, and after this negative experience, I will never again use online ads for handyman or other services. Unfortunately, there are predators out there looking for innocent people to victimize. My particular situation could have been much worse…
When spring came that year and I needed some bigger jobs done to my house, I decided to try some online pro services, as they connected me with licensed and insured contractors. Using the service gave me a single interface from which to get multiple quotes which felt more empowering to me. There were still a few issues, which I’ll explain, but this seemed like a safer option for hiring.
Quote Discrepancies—the Big Divide
One thing that was a huge surprise to me were the huge discrepancies in pricing for the jobs. Siding estimates ranged from $8000 to $16000. I got multiple quotes for a heating cooling system that ranged from $4000 to $10,000. The $10,000 quote was for a furnace only and was marked up by a general contractor, which leads me to another hiring point: Usually you will pay more for multiple jobs if you hire a general contractor to manage them because the GC gets an extra cut. In the case of the furnace, this contractor thought he deserved an extra $7000 just for knowing a furnace installer. Buyers beware. Be smart ladies… I kept looking and got a high-efficiency furnace and central air for less than $6000.
Get multiple quotes. Ask friends, if they will divulge, what they paid for their jobs. Do your research online. Ask lots of questions. Try to get the contractor to break down the quotes into materials and labor so you know how much you are actually paying and so that you can better compare quotes. Some will refuse, but this gives you more information to make an informed purchasing decision.
An online service such as ours gives women (and everyone) access to lots of licensed and insured contractors. However, it never hurts to ask your contractor to provide current copies of his/her license and insurance. I nearly had a furnace installed by someone before finding out they weren’t actually licensed. I checked with the state--another learning experience, and I’m sharing my mistakes here with you so you don’t make the same ones.
I once hired a chimney repair person for some tuck-and-point work and he fell off of my exceedingly steep roof and broke his leg. I was lucky that he a. wasn’t hurt worse and b. didn’t sue me because he didn’t have insurance. Always make sure any contractor on your property has insurance. You can call their insurance company and should.
Money Up Front
How much should women (or anyone) pay a contractor up front? Well, most contractors should have enough credit to front most of the material costs. What a contractor may charge up front will vary from state to state and from contractor to contractor. It may also vary if you are a woman customer hiring the contractor. Fifteen percent is a fair upfront charge, depending on the job. Some states allow up to 33%. If someone asks you for a large upfront deposit, get some more quotes.
Low Bidders May Not Be the Best
The lowest bid is not always the best bid. It can mean, plain and simply, low-quality workmanship or rush job. Sometimes it can mean that contractor is having trouble getting work or that they are not offering the same quality or thickness of materials as another bidder, or have found some other way to cut corners. Be sure to ask lots of questions. If you are getting siding, what kind of insulation is being used? What is the rating and thickness? For blown-in insulation, what is the material and how far up the exterior walls are they insulating? Window install? Are they doing any reframing or retrimming? How will the windows be installed? What is the energy efficiency rating of the windows? Make a list of questions and don’t be shy about calling back the contractor with more. Again, if you can get a breakdown of labor and materials, this helps you sort out the discrepancies in bids.
I once spoke to another female customer I encountered at a tire store about contractors and she said she always scheduled several estimates at the same time to get bids on a job. She claimed this usually got her a better price. It’s something to think about.
Women (and men, and seniors, and everyone else), ask your contractor what their warranty is and be sure to get it in writing. Warranties are another area in which you will find discrepancies. If part of the warranty is materials and part labor, what role will the contractor play in fulfilling the warranty? Will you be responsible for labor in the case of flawed materials? These are all questions to ask before you sign that contract.
Research Prices Yourself
For certain jobs such as flooring, researching materials costs will make you a more informed buyer when you are hammering out details with the contractor. I recommend measuring your space yourself (as many contractors won’t share their measurements). This way you can better gauge what the job should cost and know you aren’t being overcharged for materials.
Pressure On, Contractor Off
Don’t be pressured or bullied by a contractor to sign a contract. If it feels uncomfortable, listen to your instincts and keep looking. Really, there are lots of great and honest contractors out there. Just be smart and safe in your practices and choices and, also, be an informed shopper. Just be sure to ask lots of questions, be firm and professional, and do your homework before hiring. When you are ready for quotes, be sure to check out our service page for free and easy quotes for your construction, cleaning, landscaping, moving, and other needs. Also, check out our handyman vs. contractor blog post!