When you buy something at the store you see the finished product. When you order something online you see a picture of the finished product. When you hire a contractor, you won’t see the finished product until the project is built.
Buying from a contractor means trusting someone. Trusting they will build what you expect. Trusting they understand what you expect . How can a homeowner be comfortable they are choosing the right contractor for their project? How do they know who to trust? This is the fourth & final article in a blog series on how to select the right contractor.
In three previous blogs I wrote about evaluating a contractor’s background and experience, how to make sure the contractor builds what you want and expect, and understanding how a contractor effectively manages a construction project. In this fourth and final blog in the series, I will share some thoughts on safeguards that protect you from things going wrong.
Safeguards include some of the obvious points that most people know to ask when interviewing contractors. Yes, I said interviewing because that is the right approach for both parties, the client & the contractor, take in the initial meetings. We will discuss this more, shortly. Let’s stick to the obvious now. Always ask a contractor about the insurance they carry, permit requirements, and the warranties they provide.
Insurance can be tricky, I have met contractors who spin their answer on this topic. When asked if they have insurance, some respond yes, because they have auto insurance. The better question is, “What insurances do you carry?” I must admit that I am not an insurance expert, but I know that liabilityinsurance is a must. This protects your home from any damage caused during the construction process. Worker compensation insurance is also very important. It protects you from an employee of the contractor getting injured on the job and suing you for their bills. There are specific legal requirements for obtaining Workers Compensation in Illinois and most states. I believe that any company with employees is required to carry workers compensation insurance. Auto insurance is important as well but I am unaware of how this may or may not protect the homeowner. If anyone reading this is more knowledgeable on kinds of insurances, please feel free to add your comments. It is good to ask for a copy of the contractor’s certificate of insurance to verify they are currently covered.
Warranties provide obvious protection once the work is done. At Archadeck, we offer a very strong warranty as well as a third-party guarantee of performance. Always get any warranty in writing, and yes, reading it is a good idea. Our warranty is 1 year on workmanship, defined as pretty much anything related to the quality of our work, and 5 years on structural issues. Of course, warranties are only as good as the company that stands behind them. If they are out of business in 6 months, then warranties are worthless. Those low price offers often mean they are under bidding the project and eventually putting themselves out of business. Will they be around when you need them back? At Archadeck we have put in place a unique third-party guarantee. An insurance for our clients if we are gone. As a group, all the Archadeck franchisee’s created the National Guarantee Corporation in 1998. We fund it with low annual dues. This fund exists to protect all Archadeck clients for 2 years after the project is built as well as guaranteeing the completion of the project. The good news is there are very few claims on the fund but it’s a great safety net for our clients just in case.
Of course warranties may not protect you. Even if they are around, will the contractor stand behind their work or hide behind a clause in the warranty? We rarely deny coverage, even when we could. We do the right thing for the client regardless of the warranty terms. Recently, a client we built a deck for six years ago, contacted me regarding a structural issue. This was one year past our coverage and the issue was not caused by anything we did. We could have simply said “sorry, too late” or blamed the site conditions or blamed the architect for the design or the village for approving the plans. But I figured the buck had to stop with us and we fixed it. Maybe we should have anticipated this issue, maybe not, but we were the people the client trusted and we built the project, so we fixed it. This leads to one final issue, and probably the most important, to consider when hiring a contractor.
Previously, I suggested that the initial meetings are an interview for the client and the contractor. What does your research and your gut say about this person and their company? Can you trust them to do what they say, to stand behind their work, to do what is right? One of the best compliments I ever received about my company came from a client whose project did not run smoothly. Actually, early in construction I would have called it a disaster. Everything that could go wrong, did. I was replacing the crew as well as bringing in a subcontractor to build the foundation, a completely unplanned cost. If you have read my previous blogs you know that causes me much distress. In total, we spent about $12,000 more than expected. These were costs we absorbed because it was the right thing to do. Throughout the project, we kept the client informed but we never made it their problem. When we were done, they were really happy and thanked me. As I was a little embarrassed at the way the job started, I apologized again for the hassles. The client replied, “No need to apologize. We’re really happy that you made it right. Many contractors would not have and some might have walked away from the job, but you stuck it out and built us a great new screen room, deck, and patio.” Will your contractor make it right? This confidence is invaluable. I hope it helps our clients sleep a little better at night.
See you in the outdoors.