References – the Consumer’s Secret Weapon

pioneer (6)In the digital world of Angie’s List, Yelp and Google Reviews, you don’t need to actually call people and check 3 references anymore.  It’s outdated and old school – besides they’re not going to say anything useful anyway.  No contractor would give references for someone who’d say something bad about them.  Right?

Nope, that’s wrong.  Most consumers don’t understand that live references are their secret weapon in the fight to find a good contractor.  While digital reviews are a good place to begin, they’re no substitute for talking to people.  They’re easier, but not better.  Use the following questions as a place to start and modify them to fit your situation.

1. What did the contractor do for you and did you like the outcome?

Be sure to compare the size of your project with the references’ project.  Contractors often overstate their experience.  If your remodel is major it’s important to know if he’s only done small ones. 

2a. Did you make changes and how did he handle them?                                                                2b. Did you have problems and how did he handle them?

Most projects have changes and problems, and the bigger they are the more they have.  Did he handle them in timely manner and with civility? 

3. What was your biggest positive and negative about the experience?

4. What were the crew/subcontractors like?

You want a good fit for your household, personality and project – be sure to ask follow up questions that are important to you.  (Did they show up on time?  How did they treat the kids and pets?  Was there a crew chief, if so what was he like?  How well did they clean up?  Did you feel comfortable leaving them in the house alone?)

5. Was there any trouble with the paper work (contracts, permits, licenses, etc)?

6. Were you happy with the contractor’s level of communication?

Again, look for what you expect and compare it to the reference’s experience.  (Did he give regular updates or only when there was a problem?  Did you hear from the foreman, contractor or office person?  How did he respond to questions and concerns?)

7. Did your job come in on time and according to budget?  If not, why not?

Look for patterns: was he chronically late, did he ask for advances, was he juggling several jobs at once, did he make a lot of excuses for poor work or work not done.

8. Did you get the results he promised and you expected?  If not, why not?

9. Would you hire this person again?  Why?

Just asking for references can separate the good contractors from the bad – say, “I want 3 references and be warned, I will contact them”.  You’ll be amazed at how many won’t follow through.  If the contractor is too disorganized to provide them or can’t find 3 people to vouch for his work you don’t want him for your project.

Unfortunately, there seem to be more incompetent contractors out there than competent ones.  Getting and calling references is a secret weapon you can use to increase the odds that you’ll find the capable one.  You’ll be surprised at what people will tell you.  I once had a man tell me, “I only agreed to be a reference for this guy so I could tell people how crooked he is.”

Nicole Abbott is a professional writer who’s had over 150 articles published.  She’s a business consultant and former psycho-therapist with over 20 years of experience in mental health, business and addiction.  She’s a coach, lecturer, trainer and facilitator.  She has conducted over 200 workshops, trainings, presentations, seminars and college classes.


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