The renovation process, which used to rely on relationships and referrals and old-fashioned direct sales, is now modernized and made more transparent, as people can find a great contractor through platforms, social media, and customer reviews. Some home improvement contractors might not like the way that new discovery methods empower people, but those who are marketing-savvy or customer-focused can adapt and thrive. And for people who need the services of contractors regularly -- either for rental properties or fix and flips -- it’s better for business to be able to expand your network with just a few keyboard clicks.
Ways to search for contractors
These platforms, whether they function as online networking hubs or vendor- matching services, are well known by now, and most people have spent some time on one or more while researching costs and contractors. Each of them is a little different: Houzz is a portfolio aggregator and networking hub, while HomeAdvisor is an information resource that leads into a direct-matching/lead-gen funnel for people to connect with multiple contractors. HomeAdvisor is great for gleaning info on the bathroom remodel or kitchen remodel process before contractor-matching. Houzz can lead you to the perfect interior designer and architect -- as well as provide visual inspo for a remodeling job. For smaller projects that may not require a licensed contractor, there’s Thumbtack and Handy.
The company generating the most buzz in this space currently is Porch (NASDAQ: PRCH), which recently went public via a SPAC deal and is notable for offering access to a variety of services. Beyond the home-construction trades, Porch is a platform for homeowners to connect with cable TV providers, movers, and home security companies.
For those who still trust recommendations from neighbors and friends but don’t necessarily want to make a bunch of calls to get recommendations, Nextdoor and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) have become the easy way to get word-of-mouth referrals, or, as the case may be, do hyper-local marketing. Nextdoor just introduced a premium service for local contractors, and Facebook is known as the most effective platform for targeted SMB advertising. Facebook groups remain a very useful localized tool for getting real-life reviews on how someone behaved on a job site, whether they completed a project under or over budget, etcetera. If you find a reputable contractor on a Facebook group, you know they’re worth contacting, because the key tenets of current-day Facebook are: nobody agrees, and everyone has a complaint.
Trade associations and local chamber
The easiest way to be sure that you’re hiring someone who’s legitimate, licensed, and bonded is to go to the local chapters of trade associations, such as Builders Association or Latin Builders Association or the National Association or Plumbing Contractors Association. The local Chamber of Commerce can also be a good place to ask if you live in a place either too small or too large for trade associations to be helpful.
Your home warranty provider
Although the true usefulness of a home warranty is forever debated with no clear answer, one reason a lot of homeowners have them is because home warranty companies have networks of numerous contractors in all the most common specialty trades. The thing is, these companies pay the contractors less, so they’re not anyone’s favorite way to get a job. If you do find a good contractor through a home warranty company, hang onto their information in case you need them to do more work for you directly later down the line.
Once you’ve found candidates, do these things
Whether you find them through a platform or a social media group or through old-fashioned word of mouth, there are several steps you should take to vet a prospective contractor before hiring them.
Review their portfolio
Have a look through previous jobs and talk through their process. Make sure they can clearly explain the work that was done, as this will demonstrate that they were hands-on with the job.
Make sure licenses and insurance are up to date
This is a must for any professional contractor, but nonetheless, don’t assume. Ask for proof of liability insurance (and ideally, also property damage coverage and workers compensation). Also check to make sure their license is current -- and that it’s theirs. The system of RMOs ("responsible managing officer," the one with the license) and RMEs ("responsible managing employee," who borrows the license for a kickback to the licensed contractor) can be abused sometimes, and it’s safer just to know that the person you’re speaking to has a license. Even if they do intend to hire workers and subcontractors, they should still be engaged on site at the beginning.
Run an online search to see if anything bad pops up
You may end up catching previous business bankruptcies, small claims against the prospective contractor, complaints, or even lawsuits. The construction industry draws all types, and jobs that aren’t professionally managed are especially magnets for dubious characters. A final deep dive on Google might save you many months of stress.
Ask for references
When you get to the top one or two candidates, this is standard.
Empower yourself to find the best person for the job
Finding a reliable contractor has always been such an intimidating and hazard-prone process that many homeowners try to DIY projects or put them off indefinitely. Not only is home-improvement work expensive, but contractors have a reputation for setting their own terms once the job has begun. The modern discovery and vetting tools that exist today put a lot more of the power back in homeowner hands at the early stage -- and hopefully that’s enough to start your project on the right track.