How To Pick a Contractor (Who Won't Ghost You)

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When it comes to hiring contractors, most movers like you are dealing with one of two situations. Either you’re getting some remodeling or renovations taken care of before move day arrives or you’re making plans to deal with a temporary construction zone while you’re living there.  

One of life’s ironies is that good contractors seem to be always over-booked, while those most available can be the least dependable. Pick the wrong contractor, the project falls off their radar and you wind up in a hotel or staying with friends or relatives with no completion date in sight.  

So how do you pick a contractor who won’t just up and abandon you? Whichever end of the move you’re on, you may discover that you need to put nearly as much effort into the project as the contractor does. Here are a few tips to guide you. 

Know Exactly What You’re Asking For 

One reason contractors ghost clients is that they don’t understand what’s expected of them, or the client’s goals shift around from day to day. Remember, it’s all about your vision. If you’re still fuzzy about what you want the end result to be, you can’t expect the contractor to read your mind. Once you’re spent some time envisioning what you want—including the project deadline—you can start reaching out.  

Have a Budget in Mind 

Don’t start off on a sour note and assume your contractor will automatically come up with an astronomical estimate. If you tell them you have no idea about costs, it’s usually because you haven’t done any research on your own and really shouldn’t be connecting yet. Familiarize yourself with the going rates for contractors in your area. Then, start getting estimates to see how they compare against each other. Get at least three, but more is always better.  

While they still might not be able to provide an exact figure, ask for a general ballpark range based on their experience. An even better solution would be to let them know the top amount you’re willing to spend. Then build in a 10% to 15% contingency. 

A word of advice: If one or more estimates seem impossibly low compared to the others, you might wind up in a situation where your budget spirals out of control, the deadline stretches on indefinitely and the contractor moves onto another project. You want quality work from quality professionals. Be wary of lowball bids; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

Review the Contract Carefully 

A contract that’s devoid of details but full of vague language is practically an invitation to be ghosted. A well-written contract clearly states the scope of work, responsibilities, payment schedules, and start and stop times. It must also include materials being used, supplies, equipment, vendors and any subcontractors involved. Be firm about this. In a ghosting situation, you may need it for legal reasons.  

Another word of advice: If your contractor wants to be paid in cash, it could be a sign that they’re trying to avoid taxes or hiring low-wage workers under the table. Don’t do it. 

Get Them Engaged ASAP 

Good contractors are like good plumbers: constantly busy. Do some research on sites like Anji and the Better Business Bureau to get the selection process going. Also reach out to friends, neighbors and coworkers who’ve worked successfully with a particular contractor. Check that the contractor is licensed, insured, and bonded as required in your state. Bad reviews, no references or both are signs you should probably keep looking. Keep in mind that a dependable, quality contractor might not be able to jump on your project right away so the more lead time the better.  

Let Them Do Their Job  

Another reason contractors go silent is that their client is too much underfoot, misdirecting the workers and offering to pitch in and “help.” Even if you think you’re helping, from a contractor’s POV you’re probably just in the way, not to mention creating potential problems with their insurer. 

Don’t Ghost Your Contractor Either 

Check-in regularly as the work progresses and make yourself available to answer any questions. Whenever possible be onsite for key milestones and inspections. The goal here is to stay involved, not jump in and micromanage. Remember, the more engaged and responsive you are, the less likely your contractor will disappear on you.  

Be Politely Persistent – To a Point 

For a contractor, multiple backed-up jobs have a domino effect. That said, if they’ve been a no-show for too long, call. And call again. If there’s still no response, then you may need to physically go find them. Do your best not to be angry or confrontational. All you really want is a realistic timeframe for when they’ll be back.  

If All Else Fails 

The time may arrive when it’s clearly just better to hire a different contractor to pick up where the project left off. While we aren’t legal experts, it may also be a good time to seek counsel. Where do you go from there? Take a deep breath and start by reading through all the above again. 

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