In a way, contractors are a lot like lawyers.
How many lawyer jokes do you know? Lots, probably. (Our favorite: “What do you call fifty lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.”) Lawyers are probably one of the most maligned groups of professionals out there, although it’s more likely that the vast majority of attorneys are courteous, professional, and ethical in their dealings. When was the last time you actually met a truly evil lawyer?
Contractors suffer the same fate. Most contractors are good at what they do, charge a fair price and get the job done reasonably quickly. But we all know the typical stereotype: Slovenly, unwashed men desperately in need of a better way to keep their pants from dropping too low in the back, who show up late and leave without nailing so much as a single board. It’s hard out there for a contractor. It’s even harder for contractors who specialize in decking, since decks are most homeowners’ idea of the final touch on their dream homes.
But while most contractors, like most lawyers, are friendly and fair in their interactions with clients, there are a few bad apples out there. It’s important for consumers to know how to spot those apples before signing a contract. Here are a few pointers on choosing the right decking contractor:
Check review sites like Angie’s List. The Internet has opened up a universe of information for the discriminating consumer. Angie’s List works by region, allowing members to review contractors in all 50 states. When it’s time to hire a decking contractor, starting your search at a review site could net you some valuable information. Keep this in mind throughout your search – it may make the difference between putting a decking contractor on the “yes” list or the “maybe” list.
Research the relevant local codes and regulations yourself before you begin your search. Decks are just like outbuildings – their construction must adhere to a set of codes and standards that differs depending on location. Your new decking project may be limited by zoning laws in size, height or nearness to the street. Check these laws before calling around, and make sure your potential decking contractor’s knowledge of the situation http://www.deckbuildersjacksonville.net.
See if he’ll provide a free estimate. Some estimates can’t be given for free
A plumber, for instance, may have to use specialized equipment to find a leak, which can mean big money. But decks aren’t like that – it’s relatively simple to visualize how a deck will look, what kind of work will be involved in its construction, and how long it will take to build. If a contractor won’t do this for free, that may be enough reason not to hire him. You can also use your experience in getting the estimate to gauge the contractor’s professionalism: Is he on time? Does he respond to your questions with polite courtesy? Does he use hard-sell or strong-arm tactics to get you to bring him on board? This is the time to weed out potential troublemakers.
Ask for local references or provide pictures of decks he’s built in the past. If you were hiring a new employee at the office, you’d want to see a resume or a portfolio. This should be no different. Ask your contractor: What’s he done in the past? Does he have any letters of support or recommendation from his past customers? (His website may be a good place to find these.) If his experience in decking projects is limited, is he willing to lower his price?
Find out if he’s insured. This may be the most important question you ask. Is your decking contractor’s company insured against claims covering worker’s compensation or property damage? What about personal liability in case of accidents? Get the name of his carrier and agency, and make a call to be sure.
If you have kids or pets, be sure to have them around during the estimate. They’re sure to be around when your decking contractor is doing the work, so make sure he knows they’re going to be a fixture. Of course, you don’t want them getting in his way – someone could get hurt, and it’s important for you to be a courteous client. But if he responds negatively, that may be a sign of potential conflict down the line.
Make sure the contract has contact information, a payment schedule, a work schedule and total costs. Obviously, you’ll want to go over the contract thoroughly before making the hire, but it’s vital to make sure it contains this information.