If you are anything like me you may have realized that it's harder to find an honest and reputable service professional in today's day and age, than it ever has been in the past. This includes everything from high-grade steel roofing, all the way to basic handyman services. I could write a 56 page thesis on why this is, a big part of it being that our social and economic down-turns have forced people to work for themselves with very little business or construction knowledge.  With that being said and with today's dwindling attention span of the average blog reader, I will narrow it down to the top 5 things you should know about any contractor before you hire them.

1. Make sure the contractor you hire carries an up to date builder's license and insurance policy including worker's compensation. Here's the kicker though: You must physically see this. Do not ever take the company's word at face value. Even if you say to yourself "Well, I doubt anything will happen, this company seems trustworthy enough." If a contractor is willing to cut this corner early on in business on a very basic thing that anyone doing more than $600 worth of work on a property should have, what does that say about the company's ethics? If the company can't afford these basic "musts" of conducting business in the remodeling world, are you sure it's a great idea to count on them to still be in business a year from now? Not to mention any sort of injuries that could occur on your property and leave you as the homeowner in a very unfortunate situation.

2. Can they provide you with references? Ask them for references and CHECK THEM.  As homeowners we can sometimes get caught up in some of the other exciting ideas surrounding new kitchen cabinets, or cedar shake siding accents in the peaks of our home, or how our new wood flooring will flow with our existing wall colors. But sometimes one of the overlooked items on our list is talking to someone who has hired this company previously. We aren't looking for perfection here, more of what you want to find out is how these other customers were treated AFTER the company had collected on the project. Most companies will promise the moon and stars when in pursuit of your business. The true test of a company’s service is to find out how they respond when called on to honor promises made to their customers originally in the warranty/guarantee.

3. Is this company on solid financial ground? One of the first things you want to look at is longevity in business. Unfortunately, I have previously been employed by home improvement companies who have bounced my paychecks.  Fortunately, I now work for a company that is 100% debt free. So with experience on both ends of the spectrum, I’ve learned a few very helpful signs to watch out for. How many times has the contractor changed business names? Does the company offer financing through larger lenders such as Synchrony, JPMorgan, or Medallion? I have to tell you even if you don't plan to finance your project, if you are considering doing business with a company that nets over 1 million per year, and they do not offer financing, RUN. The only reason a company that large wouldn't offer it, is if the company CAN'T because no financial institutions are willing to run the risk based on the company's financial track record. If big lenders said no, than so should you.  Trust me, the last thing you want to find is an unwelcome surprise that there is a lien on your house because you hired “Chuck in a Truck” to install your replacement windows. Smaller contractors may not offer financing which isn't a deal breaker as long as they have been in business more than 5 years under the same name and also have their references, insurance, and licensing documentation all in order. Home improvement companies that are less than 5 years old should be incurring as little debt as possible.

4. How involved is the actual owner of the company in the day to day operations? This is a tricky one. The companies I have worked for where the owner was involved in day to day operations of the business have always provided better service. I worked for a company that nets 30 million dollars a year, and their service was the worst I've ever seen. Not because they just didn't care but more likely because the people at the low end of the totem pole were the ones taking the service calls. They were so far removed the business's original mission, there was a huge disconnect and this created numerous complaints. When you give your business to a smaller company or a family owned business and you have an issue, there is a much better chance of you getting to talk to someone who cares enough about fulfilling the promises made to you as the customer. They will be willing to show you why your business is valued, and why they want to earn your business for a lifetime. 

5. How does this company treat its employees? This is probably one of the most underrated things I have witnessed. A company that takes great care of their employees, takes great care of their customers with hardly any exception.  When a company realizes that their employees are actually the blood of the organization and they invest in those employees, the employees will then in turn produce that same type of treatment with the customers. Drive by a home improvement company and take a look around the parking lot.  If there is 1 Corvette, and all the other cars are clunkers, it’s clear to see what is going on there. As a consumer, think about how your interactions have felt with each person from this company you are considering. Did they seem happy to work here? Were they upbeat, and positive? These are true indicators of how a company treats their customers.

Megan McGuire is a home improvement marketing and sales specialist with 15 years of experience in building successful marketing processes for the remodeling industry.