Q: I have read many times that when hiring professionals to work on one’s home that three bids, with references, are preferred. Unfortunately, I have a problem with that method.
While it sounds prudent, I live in a place (Vallejo, Calif.) where I can’t get a single pro to come out to my house, let alone three of them. I have been stood up many times and have been disappointed with the few that have come out. It seems that people wish to work on new home developments.
Most of my neighbors are do-it-yourselfers, but I am not so confident, nor do I have the time. Any suggestions on finding qualified people in an apparently undesirable location? I feel helpless and ripped off.
A: We must confess that we’re among those who suggest that, when hiring a professional contractor to work on your home, it is prudent to get at least three bids, get references and review some of the work they’ve done before hiring.
Also, depending on the size of the job, make sure the contractor you hire is licensed, insured and bonded. Anyone contracting for a home-improvement project in California of more than $500 must be licensed. For more information about licensing requirements and other subjects regarding contractors, visit the California Contractors State License Board Web site.
We also regularly hear the lament that homeowners who are ready to part with some of their hard-earned dollars to hire out work just can’t find anyone who’s interested.
Over the past few years, the problem has gotten worse. We don’t think it’s necessarily related to location. Vallejo is not an “undesirable” town. In our minds, the cause of the dearth in tradespeople is twofold: the real estate boom and the lack of skilled workers — especially those willing to take on home-improvement projects. It’s simple supply and demand. Too many jobs are chasing too few workers. The good contractors can afford to cherry-pick, and you don’t want the bad ones.
It’s not just a local problem either. Last summer, Kevin had the opportunity to chat with Tom Silva, the general contractor on the PBS television programs “This Old House” and “Ask This Old House.” In addition to appearing on television, Silva is a partner in the family construction business in Boston. In the course of conversation, Silva remarked that there seem to be fewer and fewer young people entering the trades and that he was having a tough time finding skilled workers.
It affects us, too. Construction work can be physically taxing, and now that we’re on the downhill side of 50, we’re in the market for professional help more than we were in the old days. Our bodies just don’t work the way they used to. On a recent Sunday, Bill was painting casework and baseboard at his condo in Walnut Creek, Calif., but this week a contractor will come in to lay down a new hardwood floor.
We have the advantage of being able to “talk the talk,” and we do have some contacts from yesteryear, so it’s a bit easier for us. It’s still a challenge, though.
The best source of contractors is referrals. Family and trusted friends are the best source of referrals. Ask them for references. Next, we’d inquire of local real estate agents. Any agent who does a fair amount of business is likely to have a stable of professionals to perform work on properties they list to get them ready for sale. Also ask at church, at work or at a civic organization for suggestions about contractors.
Finally, take a look at a Web site called Angie’s List. The site offers referrals and reviews of home-service contractors by the homeowners who have hired them. We’ve never had occasion to use this service, but it has gotten good publicity and is probably worth checking out.