Home Improvement Magazine

Hiring a Contractor – 4 Basic Questions

By Bluecollarworkman @TB_BlueCollar

I’ve got a guest post today for you guys from CollegeMom over at ConsumerFu.com. Be sure to let her know what you think in the comments!

In the 20 years that I have been a homeowner I’ve had just a few opportunities to hire a contractor. The last time was earlier this year and it proved one thing – I have no clue how to hire a contractor.

A few months ago a storm caused a very small bit of damage to the trim on our home. Several phone calls revealed a wild difference in repair quotes for the replacement of a six foot piece of trim, and I wound up hiring the contractor who returned my call first and who had agreed to look at the damage before giving a price.

A couple of local contractors gave high quotes without bothering to come survey the damage. One told me it wasn’t worth his time to drive out to my home. Most justified their high estimates by explaining they would have to buy an entire roll of white trim to get the one six foot piece cut.

The man I hired had a good record with the Better Business Bureau, he was professional on the phone and showed up on time. He said he would call back as soon as he had acquired the materials he needed and within a couple of days we had scheduled a time for him to finish the repairs.

On the day and at the time we had scheduled, the contractor showed up alone. I hadn’t asked him if he would be bringing any help. My husband travels. I’m 5’2” and the ladder was massive. He proceeded to explain to me that his brother-in-law, who was supposed to help him, was still drunk, so he’d left him at home. Thank goodness!

Then I found out why his quote was so low. He’d put an ad for the piece of trim on Craig’s List. He said he’d had a response in a matter of hours. The trim was almost an exact match. Brilliant! I hadn’t thought to ask him why his rate was so low. I admire his resourcefulness and that alone makes this experience worth it.

Back to the ladder. Mr. Contractor weighed maybe 150 pounds soaking wet and I was worried about him trying to get the ladder up on his own. He assured me it would be fine. The trim had to be secured under another piece at the peak of the second story of our home so the ladder was quite tall. After he stretched it out in the front yard to a height he thought would reach, we each picked up one side and slowly walked the ladder toward the front of the house.


As we struggled with the ladder he explained to me that the man who sold him the trim also loaned him the ladder for the day. He had to return it. He couldn’t come back later with help. One way or the other, we had to get that ladder up against the house.

After we finally had it positioned, the contractor finished the repairs while I held the ladder. It was about his second trip up that I noticed he paused and when I asked if he was ok he told me that he was fine…just a bit nervous since he’d fallen from a ladder two years prior and had broken both of his legs.

I can’t tell you what went through my mind. I will admit I failed to ask some basic questions, but would you have thought to ask a contractor if he was comfortable climbing a ladder?

After the work was completed we talked briefly before he left. This was when he informed me he had recently lost his liability insurance. Great! The fact is, though, I had not thought to ask and that was my responsibility.

While my situation worked out quite well, it could have been disastrous. I failed to ask some very basic questions prior to hiring this contractor.

  • Did he have help or how many would be in the crew?
  • Did he own all the equipment necessary to complete the job?
  • Was he licensed? I did actually ask this and saw his license at our first meeting.
  • Was he insured?

In the end, everything worked out for the best. Nobody was hurt and our repair was completed more quickly and less expensively than any other contractor had quoted. We plan to hire this same man to help us with a few other jobs. The good news is that none of them involves ladders and they’re small jobs so he won’t need to worry about sobering up his brother-in-law.

CollegeMom is a staff writer at ConsumerFu.com. After a career in commercial banking, she left corporate America to raise her daughters. She and her family live on four acres of old farmland with two dogs, a cat, several large gardens and a high speed internet connection.

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