How to Find Great Home Improvement Contractors

A young couple meeting a builder. The young man shaking hands with the builder.

When you buy a new construction home, everything from the roof to the foundation is new, new, new and much of it will be protected by a builder's warranty. Still, there may be times down the road when you'll want to hire a home improvement or repair contractor for your brand-new home. For instance, you might want to make upgrades that weren't included when you bought your home or you might need to repair damage that's not due to a construction defect.

Finding home repair contractors who're knowledgeable, reputable, reliable, skilled and reasonably priced isn't always easy. The obvious place to look is online, where you'll find a ton of websites that publish reviews of contractors' services or promise to connect you with qualified professionals in your area.

These sites might help you find some names to start with, but they're not always the best resource for unbiased information or referrals. Some website don't police who writes their reviews. Others don't evaluate contractors beyond their ability to pay for homeowners' names and email addresses.

As a new homeowner, you'll need to search further and dig deeper to find truly excellent contractors. We asked five for their advice and tips. Here's what they recommended:

Jeff Werho, President of J. Werho Construction. Jonesboro, Ga.

"One of the best ways to find a good home improvement professional is through referrals from friends, family and neighbors—people who will share their good and bad experiences with you. You can also check local neighborhood websites for reviews and references. Once you've narrowed down your search, ask to see the contractor's completed work. Ask about his professional certifications, state-issued contractor's license and proof that he's covered by general liability and workman's compensation insurances."

Mark Galey, Owner of Master Home Remodelers. Sandy Springs, Ga.

"Many contractors put their (business) cards on corkboards at local paint companies, lumber yards, home centers and hardware stores. A good source of referrals is salespeople at (those retailers). Good Realtors are also a credible source for contractor referrals."

Cassy Aoyagi, President of FormLA Landscaping. Los Angeles

"Meet contractors in person. You'll be inviting them onto your property and maybe into your home. Their work will impact your health and your enjoyment of your space. Having a great rapport, ideally genuinely liking them, will make a great difference in your satisfaction long term."

Todd E. Miller, President of Isaiah Industries, a roofing manufacturer. Piqua, Ohio

"Don't over-negotiate price. If you do, your contractor will be forced to find areas to make up the difference and that usually means corners will be cut. Even the best contractor can end up doing sub-par work if you tie his hands too tightly.

"Hire a contractor who returns calls, confirms in writing and answers your questions thoroughly and correctly. If a contractor isn't responsive and helpful when he's trying to sell a project to you, you certainly can’t expect him to be responsive during the project or later, if problems arise."

Matthew Breyer, President / Lead Designer of Breyer Construction & Landscape. Reading, Pa.

"Don’t focus on getting three estimates (because you might) miss the more important goal of preselecting three qualified contractors and interviewing them to establish a rapport and positive relationship to work together going forward.

"Don’t ask for references. If a contractor gives you a handpicked list of glowing responses, that’s terrible. Of course, those people love him. That’s why he provided that specific list.

"Don’t assume pictures (a contractor shows you) are of his past clients' projects. Images that appear too professional might be stock pictures. If all the pictures are of a project that's under construction, (you won't know) what that project might look like a year later. We’ve had contractors in other states attempt to use our pictures as their own work."

The bottom line is that finding great contractors may take time and trial and error, especially if you're a first-time homeowner or you've moved to a new community. If you don't love a contractor who does work for you, don't hire him again just because it's convenient. If a contractor doesn't do a job well and refuses to redo it, you might have to call—and pay—a second contractor to fix the first contractor's sloppy work. If you're a good customer who's reliable and pays contractors well, good contractors will want your business and gladly refer you to others as competent as themselves.
Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, book editor and blogger whose work has been published by a long list of financial, mortgage and banking websites, trade magazines and newspapers. You can find her on Google+.

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