There are many reasons to invest time and care in the selection of a residential contractor. Perhaps the most obvious, however, is that a contractor may spend a considerable amount of time in your house, and it’s essential that your family and possessions remain safe. In addition, it’s important that your home-improvement projects be done well, and that if any problems arise, the contractor you hire takes care of them without delay. As in so many other aspects of keeping up a home, due diligence at the beginning can save money, time, and trouble later on.

Shearer Painting has painted homes in the Seattle area since 1990. Extensive technical expertise like this is a major consideration when choosing a contractor. It’s also vital to pick a firm that has a lot of experience on projects like the one you need completed. Your contractor should be up on industry trends and capable of understanding the intricacies of the project at hand.

A quality contractor has documented business experience. It’s wise to choose a company that has been around for years and has, in that time, developed a positive reputation in your community. Contractors with reputations to uphold are naturally motivated to do excellent work, and to adhere to warranty agreements. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good sign if a company has been in the same area for at least five years. If subcontractors will be involved in the job, your contractor should have a good relationship with them, which means coordinating them effectively and paying them fairly.

You’ll want to hire a contractor that emphasizes customer service. (Many firms, including Shearer Painting, are reviewed by customers at sites like Google Places.) Every worker and manager you encounter should be friendly and professional, and references should be easy to obtain. Don’t hesitate to contact those references to ask about the company’s commitment to fixing problems that emerge during the course of a project and honoring special requests, like cleaning up the site if the homeowners are expecting company. While you’re at it, ask how good the contractor is at meeting deadlines, whether its workers keep the job site safe and clean, and how close the final cost was to the initial estimate. Don’t forget to ask each reference whether they would hire the firm again.

Any relationship benefits from clear communication, and that’s certainly the case with customers and contractors. The firm you hire should listen to and understand your needs and wants regarding a project. Employees should display enthusiasm and, where appropriate, contribute ideas to the project. The contractor should also be willing and able to relieve a customer’s stress and address her concerns during the course of a job.

Your contractor should be reachable by phone, e-mail, and/or fax, and should return messages promptly. Job site meetings between contractor and client can be an excellent way for both parties to stay on the same page and track progress. If extra work is required, the contractor should produce a written change order. Contracts, product descriptions, and project specifications should also be in writing, as should call logs and e-mail records. The aforementioned points may seem like no-brainers, but since

miscommunication is the leading cause of disputes between contractors and customers, they’re essential to keep in mind.

Any contractor you do business with should be licensed and insured. That means all employees should be covered, and the company should offer workers comp and have both general liability and car insurance. Remember that a cheaper firm may not be a better choice; don’t just opt for the lowest bid. It’s always a plus if your contractor is a member of a trade association; similarly, you’ll want to see what the Better Business Bureau has to say about the company. Make sure the contract indicates that any disputes will go initially to mediation, rather than directly to the costly, inefficient legal system.

A good contractor understands and respects the fact that you, the client, have the final say when it comes to the project. You should also be on the lookout for detailed proposals, a hands-on owner, and workers who arrive looking neat and clean, start work punctually, and remain minimally intrusive while working. Before hiring a firm, find out what its current workload looks like; that should give you a sense of how likely the company is to finish your project on time. Check a contractor’s litigation history and look at past projects, especially ones that resemble yours. Keep in mind that glamorous ads aren’t important when it comes to choosing a contractor, but word of mouth is.

Returning to our initial point – contractors enter your home and spend a decent bit of time there – it’s vital that all employees receive background checks. Shearer Painting conducts full background checks on all of its workers, which saves customers the time and expense of doing it themselves. One in every 32 adults has a criminal record, and a quick Google search reveals many cases of fraudulent contractors scamming, or even assaulting, their clients. In many parts of the country, home-improvement fraud is becoming more prevalent, and elderly people are three times more likely to fall prey. According to the Council of Better Business Bureaus, only car salespeople and mechanics generate more consumer complaints than contractors.

It stands to reason that while quality of work is a key factor in choosing a contractor, safety trumps even that. The advantages of hiring a long-standing, experienced company are many, and the cost of taking a chance on an unknown firm can be high. Fortunately, if you follow the criteria listed above, you’re likely to hire the right contractor the first time around.

What to Look for in a Contractor