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Unless you were born this morning, very early this morning, you should know better than to hire a remodeling contractor without first asking for and actually checking on his or her references. I know what you’re going to say—“It’s too much trouble,” or “he seemed like such a nice guy...”  It happened to my own mother. (believe me, I tried to convince her to get references)  She called me one day and said:

“I finally found a contractor that I really like to do the bathroom.“

“That you like,” I said.

“And his price was good,” she said. “Should I give him a deposit? He says he wants a 20% deposit. I like him but does that seem right?”

“A deposit for what,” I asked her. “Is he delivering materials or starting the foundation.”

“He said he wants a commitment from me to put me on his schedule. To guarantee a spot.”

“Well, when is he going to start?”

“ He said he can start in two months,” she said.

“Two months! He wants four thousand dollars and you won’t see him for four months?”

“So you don’t think that’s right?” 

“Did you ask him for references?” I asked, thinking—it’s time to get down to the serious questions.

“He’s doing a job right in town here,” she told me. “I drove by the house.”

Okay. “Did you talk to the people?” I already knew the answer to this one. Her rationalization was becoming all too familiar.

“Well, he had the best price,” she said, “And he seems so nice.”

In the end, at least I talked mom out of giving the contractor the deposit. But the job didn’t exactly run smoothly. The doors and trim used were the cheapest products available. When she attempted to address her concerns to him she said he scared her by shouting at her and acting mean. And when I offered to call him for her she refused my offer, telling me she was afraid of what he might do

Good grief!

There was a long list of problems at the end of the job, but the contractor never answered any phone calls from mom. She had to hire another contractor to come and fix loose floor tiles and the entry door. The finish on the paint was like sandpaper. When she finally complained to the local building inspector she was told that this contractor had had his license suspended. This was the guy that seemed so nice that my mom didn’t believe she needed to bother with references before she hired him.

I bet I’ve met six clients in the past three or four months that we’ve installed closets for who have had some sort of nightmare experience with their contractor. One of our customers had the wire shelving installed by their contractor collapse when he and his wife hung their clothes on the rods. They were involved in litigation over that issue as well as more serious structural and roof leaking problems. At least two folks we installed closets for fired their contractors for fear of their competency, and had to hire another builder to finish the job. This never works out in the homeowners favor when it comes to economics. We even re-framed a section of a deck for one of our clients who had discovered that the framing had been built so tightly around his brand new hot tub that the access panel could not be removed for service work. This was on a weekend when the temperature had dropped down to single numbers. It took us two days to deconstruct and then rebuild the section of deck near the tub’s service panel. And then there was... well, I bet you’re starting to get the picture.

So what’s a homeowner to do? I thought you’d never ask. It’s a simple three-step process:

1.      Ask any contractor or closet company that you are considering hiring for a list of references. If they are reputable they will have references readily available. At ClosetPlace we always include a list of references with every proposal we submit to a potential client.

2.      This is the hard part, but don’ you dare skip it: call at least four people on the contractor’s list and ask them how the job went. Ask about problems and how these problems were handled. Effective problem resolution is an important measure of a builder or remodelor’s worth. Ask about scheduling issues and weather or not the builder stayed on budget.

3.      Ask to tour one of the contractors completed jobs. At the very least, drive by several homes he has built or remodeled and ask to see pictures of the interior. If it’s finish work, closets or built-in cabinetry that you are considering, the company should be able to show you a portfolio of their work.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important to feel comfortable with or to “like” the person you hire to work on your home. But before you have this person spend a large amount of your hard earned cash you’d better find some basis for trust as part of your relationship s well.