Handyman: Finding good contractors takes some homework

Glenn Haege

Whenever you are planning a project around the home, you have two choices: Do it yourself or hire a contractor. If you decide to hire someone, the next thing you need to think about is where you can find a competent contractor to do the work.

One of the best ways to find a good contractor is through referrals. Family and friends are often the best place to start, but you can also get recommendations from another important source: suppliers of home products.

Most lumber yards, building supply stores and specialty home product stores can refer you to a list of contractors that buy their products. But whether you are getting a referral from a neighbor or a recommendation from a supplier, make sure you determine the scope of the project so you qualify the type of contractor you may need.

“If you needed to fix a toilet, you would be fine hiring a plumber,” said Jim Kronk of Universal Plumbing Supply, (248) 542-3888, universalplumbingsupply.net. “But you wouldn’t want to hire a plumber if you were planning to remodel your entire bathroom and turn it into the dream bathroom you have been planning for the past 10 years,” he said.

Kronk said suppliers are a good source of recommendations because they often have a list of contractors that their customers consider professional.

Dave Stoutenger from John’s Lumber, (586) 791-1200, johnslumber.com, said they used to install many of the home products they sell, but finding good people has been difficult since so many left the state to find work during the down economic times. And now that things are picking up, it can make it even more of a challenge.

“In my 32 years in the business I don’t remember it ever being this tough to find good people,” he said. “So we cut back on installation and now we only install windows and exterior doors.”

But even when you do find a good contractor to work on your home, expect that it will take a lot longer to get the project done because the good ones are so busy.

That means you shouldn’t hire the first contractor you talk to, but get at least three estimates, and then check the contractor’s references by calling past customers and even visiting the customer’s home to see the kind of work the contractor does.

Once you have selected a contractor, make sure you get a written contract that clearly spells out everything, including financing arrangements and payment schedules, types of materials to be used, and the start and completion dates, including the cleanup of the site. You should also verify that they are insured, not just for injuries, but also for poor workmanship and liability.

For more tips on hiring a contractor read my recent article, “Do homework to avoid scams,” at masterhandyman.com.

While it is certainly tougher these days to find a good contractor, it isn’t impossible if you know the right sources. The days of getting things done quickly are long gone, so make sure you factor in plenty of extra time to get your project completed by the good ones.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail askglenn@masterhandyman.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.