I recently wrote a guest blog post for a home improvement site called Kukun. I thought you might like to hear the tips that I gave them for finding a good subcontractor (the post was actually on how to find a good electrician, but the tips apply to finding any good sub).
I’ve covered many of these tips in several different previous podcast episodes, but I want to go over all those tips in one single show so you can reference this week’s show notes when it comes time for you to search for your subs. Plus I’ll give you a couple of new suggestions.
Okay, let's get right to it.
First of all, let’s quickly go over most of the subcontractors you will need. This is just a quick list. If you need more explanation of what each subcontractor does, take a listen/look at episode 22 called What Subcontractors Do I Need to Hire to Build My New Home and How Should I Manage Them?— BYHYU 022
The majority of us will need the following subs, no matter what type of house we’re building or where:
Framer (sometimes called a framing carpenter)
Mechanical subs, which include the Electrician, Plumber, HVAC contractor
Drywall or Plaster installer
Flooring and Tile guys
Some more specialized subcontractors that you may or may not need include:
Septic system installers
Brick or Stone masons
Siding or Stucco guys
Stair builders (although the finish carpenter can sometimes build stairs)
What I’ve heard is that framing carpenters and finish carpenters will know most of the good subs in your area. That’s because the framer and the finish carpenter are the guys who often have to fix the mistakes that other subs make. And they’re the guys who work pretty closely with the finished work of the other subs.
So my plan is call a few framers and finish carpenters early on in my search for subcontractors to get the names of subs some framing and finish carpenters would use if they were building a house. Remember that’s one of my favorite questions to ask “If you were building a house, what subs would you use?”
Let's get to our tips. Let's start with a couple that I know you’ve heard a million times before.
1. Ask neighbors, friends and family if they know good a plumber, electrician, carpenter, etc.
2. Consult online directories for the names and reviews of subs in your area.
That’s good advice and it’s a great start. But let’s go over some fresh, unconventional suggestions for finding a qualified subcontractor.
3. Drive by up-and-coming neighborhoods in your area where new houses are being built. Look in the yards for signs showing company names and phone numbers. Subs often have signs posted. Be especially alert for names that you see repeatedly. In general, subcontractors who do good work will be hired over and over again.
4. Chat with subs.
When you're at those homebuilding job sites, have a chat with a few subcontractors. Ask them what subs they would use if they were having work done on their home.
5. DON’T ask supply warehouse workers for recommendations.
That’s right, I said “Don’t.” Workers at wholesale stores, supply stores and even big box stores are a good source of information about subcontractors. But if you ask them to “recommend” subs, you may not get specific names.
Workers usually won't give “recommendations.” They say they don’t want to offend (and risk losing the business of) the contractors they haven’t recommended.
So you have to be clever about the questions you ask. Try these:
“Who are the busiest plumbers, electricians, framers, etc. in the area?” or “What subs come in for supplies most often?” Asking which subs are the busiest will again give you some idea of who gets hired often. Subs who work often, usually work well.
6. Check out your state's Home Builders Association website.
Most states have a Home Builders Association website with a list of subcontractors that are dues paying members. Most shady subs won't take the time to join the HBA. Bonus: If you hire an HBA electrician and have trouble with him, you'll be able to file a complaint with most associations.
7. Ask a few builders if they they would be willing to give you the names of some reliable subs.
Now, many builders are very possessive of and private about the subs they use regularly, but some might be willing to give you a few names. If a builder seems particularly hesitant to share names with you, you can say something like “You don’t have to give me the names of your guys, but could you tell me of some other good subs that you know.” Finally, you might be able to encourage them to talk if you offer a consultant’s fee that you two can agree upon.
8. It’s a long shot, but ask your county's building inspectors my favorite question (who they would use if they were building a house), but definitely don’t ask for recommendations. Building inspectors really have the inside scoop, so it's worth it to try to get some information out to them.
With these tips, you should be able to come up with at least 5-10 candidates for each job category you could potentially hire. Okay, what’s next?
INVESTIGATE BEFORE YOU INVEST!
Before you hire and pay any subcontractor, it’s smart to do some investigation.
9. Review the sub's BBB profile.
Granted, this isn’t a fresh, unconventional tip, but it really good advice and it’s easy to do. Look up the sub’s Better Business Bureau's rating and see if he has any complaints. Search BBB.org not only for the company’s name, but also the subcontractor’s name.
10. Get proof of license and insurance.
Unfortunately, some subs will tell you they’re licensed and insured when they’re not. Ask everyone on your list of candidates for actual copies of their license and insurance papers. And so neither of you feels awkward, just tell the candidate that you need the papers “for your project file.” If anyone refuses give up the papers, cross him off the list.
11. Get at least 3-5 bids from each type of subcontractor.
Be as specific as you can about your scope of work and make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Don’t forget to ask about the warranty. Be cautious of hiring any subcontractor with a price that’s significantly lower or significantly higher than the other bids.
12. Talk to 3-5 references.
Ask for the names and numbers of several of the subcontractor’s past clients and chat with them about their experience with the sub. Ask them what they liked and disliked. Ask about the best and worst characteristics of the sub and his crew. Make sure to talk with recent clients AND clients from 10 or more years ago so you can find out how the sub’s work holds up over time.
13. Test the candidates.
Call, text and/or email each candidate a couple of times to see how responsive they are. Do they answer you within a reasonable amount of time or do they ignore you? Take note of those subs who are especially receptive to communicating with you.
14. Ask for ideas.
When talking to candidates about your project, ask them for suggestions about what you could do to save money without compromising quality. Or ask how you could make your design better. Put the guys with the best answers on your short list. Bonus: You might just get some great design and money saving ideas.
15. Look at their work, if possible.
Ask if they have any clients who are willing open their homes to you. If not, ask for photos of past work.
16. Keep a list of runners-up.
Hold on to the contact information of 2 or 3 subs in each job category, for example, plumbing, roofing, or painting. These are subs that you liked, but didn’t hire for your project. And these subs are your back-ups, just in case something goes wrong with the guy you chose.
If the sub that you hired continually fails to show up, or if he is doing poor quality work, call one of your back-up to see if he is interested in completing your project. If so, you can give your unreliable sub one last warning. Tell him you’ll have to replace him if you don’t see improvement. If problems continue, call your back-up and ask if he can start work ASAP. Although firing a subcontractor is not ideal, sometimes it has to be done.
IN SUMMARY: MAKE A LIST AND CHECK IT TWICE!
Going through all these steps takes time and effort, but you’ll greatly increase your chances of hiring a good subcontractors. Plus, your effort will be a sign to your subs that you’re on top of your game. That you mean business. They’ll most likely conclude that because you’ve gone the extra mile to find quality subs, you’ll expect quality work.
If you know someone who is planning to build or renovate who might need these tips, you can share the show with them by text or email (just copy and past the link) or on social media (choose one of the social media icons displayed). It will help them out and it will also help the podcast grow.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete, it’s subject to change and it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.
Well, that’s all for you. I hope that helped and I hope you’ll come back next week for another episode of BYHYU.