Selecting A Contractor Part 1

We were at the Seattle Home Show in February, where we spent two days at the Master Builders Association’s Remodelers Council booth. The booth is a chance for us to talk about our company with people interested in remodeling, and also an opportunity for Home Show attendees to “Ask the Experts” questions on a variety of topics related to home improvement.

It is common for Home Show attendees to mistake us for MBA employees because we are adjacent to the main MBA booth, so we often get candid questions that might not be asked of contractors.  The number one question this last Spring was along the lines of, “How do I sort through all the remodelers out there and find one I can trust and work with?”

It’s a great question and one that will have a different answer, depending on your project and your expectations.  We’ll get into that later.  But first, the basics: How to create a short list of contractors to consider.  These are some of the techniques you can use….

Ask friends or co-workers who they hired. This can be helpful, particularly if the work your friends contracted for is similar to your project.  It’s also important to know enough about your friends’ taste and tolerances that their positive referral is for reasons that you will agree with.  We have a friend who loved her contractor, who had no employees and took many many months longer than anticipated but came in with what she considered a good price.  We also have a friend who bailed out a tarp in a downpour for an entire night because her contractor didn’t answer his phone.  She was less enchanted with her contractor for a variety of reasons beyond the tarp, including erratic billing practices, but the quality of the work completed was quite good.  What’s most helpful about collecting names is that you will likely start hearing one or two names repeatedly, and you may want to focus in on those.

Look in your neighborhood Contractors often post signs for larger projects, so it’s clear who is doing the work.  You can also ask neighbors who have work under way, and they can at least give you an “in progress” referral for their contractor.  It’s not unusual for homeowners who have a good experience with their contractor to hire them a new project, so those referrals might be the most valuable.

Ask your architect If you have already selected an architect or designer, they may have recommendations.  Because architects usually work with dozens of contractors over the years, they may have a good “short list” of contractors whose quality of work and communication, and fair pricing sets them apart from the rest.  As with the referrals from friends, knowing the architect’s or designer’s standards is helpful as well.

Check with your local HBA Home builders’ associations usually make their membership lists available online.  In the Seattle area, the Master Builders’ Association of King and Snohomish Counties ( has a complete list of its builder/remodeler members and associate members, like plumbers and electricians.  The MBA website provides an option to search for builders by city, which will help narrow down members in your area.  HBAs generally have standards for acceptance of members, and the MBA requires adherence to a code of ethics as a condition of membership.  Code of Ethics is here.

Do an Internet search An Internet search can tell you what companies are doing a good job of providing content (high organic results) and which companies are paying alot to advertise (“sponsored” results).  The value of the search is that you can look at the websites of each company to see what kind of work they do and learn more about them.  It also may make you aware of companies that you might not otherwise know about.  The “buyer beware” part of this is that companies can make themselves look big and competent online when the reality is different.  Similarly, very good companies that are not Internet-savvy may have a limited or outdated website.

Next, part 2: Now that I have a short list, what do I do?

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