How To Check Your Contractor’s References Before Starting a Project

How To Check Your Contractor’s References Before Starting a Project

After you’ve dialed in on a shortlist of contractors- whose work you admire and budget you can live with- it’s time to start checking their references. Here’s how to research them so you can mitigate risk before making the choice. All contractors can provide references that list their favorite clients, friends and family, but you need to dig deeper than a few calls and emails if you want true insight into their true character and reputation.

Do Their Biggest Fans Love Them?

Ask your potential contractor for three references from the last five years. They will always provide their three favorite clients. Call them and ask simple yet informative questions:

“Were you satisfied with their work?”

“How much did your project run over budget?”

“Was the contractor and their subcontractors professional and courteous?”

“Would you use them again?”

It is almost guaranteed this this list will only contain satisfied customers. It is helpful but does not provide the full picture.

Are Recent Clients Happy?

Ask your potential contractor for references from their last five projects. This list may or may not include names from their original reference list. Call the project owners on this list if they were not on the first list and ask them the same series of questions. If these new references don’t check out, then it’s possible that your contactors performance has recently diminished (or that their work is spottier). There are many reasons why a contractor’s work could suffer from job to job. A one-off issue is understandable, but a trend of recent dissatisfied clients is a red flag.

What do Suppliers Say?

Request three references from long-time material suppliers. Your potential contractor’s financial solvency is important. If your contractor doesn’t pay their bills, you can get stuck with a lien on your property or have to pay the bill yourself.

Ask the supplier questions that will provide fiscal clues to how the contractor does business. How long have you sold them materials? Do they pay their bills promptly? Would you hire them to work on your property?

Listen more then ask when talking to the supplier and take cues on how they really feel about the contractor.

Are They Licensed and Insured?

Checking a valid contractor’s license and insurance may seem like a formality, but don’t let expired documents slide. You can check this any time through your state’s contractor licensing board. Using a licensed contractor will protect you in the event of a dispute. Most licensing board also require a contractor to provide up-to-date insurance documents.

Ask your contractor for a copy of their general liability policy. You can also request to be “additionally insured” on their policy.

Expect minimal pushback from reputable contractors. The good ones have nothing to hide and are transparent about why some jobs didn’t work out as they expected. Good contractors also don’t bash other contactors or previous clients. They let all of their good work speak for itself and don’t waste time by pulling down others or sharing grudges.