Have you ever hired someone to work on your property and been horribly disappointed? Possibly have to hire a second person to clean up the mess the first one made? Having been a property manager, landlord, general contractor and now consulting for online property management software, I can tell you I’ve encountered a slew of unprofessional, undependable, over-paid, irresponsible, unethical and down-right skill-less people who claim to be “professionals.”
There are some basics you should always employ when hiring a vendor. If you are a property owner, or work in the property management/real estate biz, I recommend you develop a list of trusted contractors right away, even if you do not have a project on the horizon. And don’t just find one… find three. Scrambling to find a trusted vendor that’s available when pipes are busting, the home is being devoured by carpenter ants or the roof is falling is going to cause you nothing but grief. Trust me on this one. You will save heaps of time and money establishing a relationship with a vendor BEFORE you actually need them.
I recommend you create a list that includes professionals who handle the following services: cleaning, plumbing, electrical, flooring installation, general repairs, carpentry, drywall, landscaping, pest control, excavation, septic /sewer, hazardous waste removal, roofing and general contracting.
Here are some basic considerations/guidelines I’ve used over the years to create my list of vendors:
KEEP ‘EM LOCAL: the further away they are, the longer it takes for them to respond, the more they will charge you for travel time & fuel and less likely they will be familiar with city/county regulations.
PHONE: Must be able to reach them by phone or get a call back within the same day of calling. Must have an emergency contact number available. Consider how professional they are when you first call them? If they are short with you, slack or difficult to reach, imagine how they will be when there’s an emergency or dispute.
BUSINESS HOURS: Be sure to be clear on what hours of operation they keep, if they respond to emergencies and if they are always ”booked out”. I recommend you always have someone in your pocket who you can call 24/7 for emergencies, and then also one of those super-amazing contractors everyone is vying for in case you have a specialty project.
HISTORY: How long have they been in business? Be cautious of anyone in business for less than 1 year. I personally don’t think it's wise to be part of the learning curve.
REFERENCES: Get at least two references. I like to get one from a customer who they worked for at least a year prior and then another one from a current customer. Ask questions such as would they re-hire? Were they on time? What was the quality of workmanship? Any problems?
MEET IN PERSON: Ask if you can drop by a current job-site to meet them as seeing how someone maneuvers on the job will tell you a lot about if you want them working on your property. Sometimes this is not prudent (hazardous zone, picky owner, etc.) so be reasonable. In any case, how do they present themselves? Are they/the job site organized/safe? In the meeting, do they volunteer their policies/procedures or do you have to “dig” for details?
LEGAL END: If they do not volunteer, ask for a copy of their current business license and insurance certificates. Confirm if they have employees and then review local and state registries/boards for any documented complaints, grievances or inconsistencies.
BILLING, PAYMENT & CONTRACT TERMS: What is their general labor rate? Do they have a minimum contract price? Do they charge additional for emergencies/after-hours work? Do they provide a written contract & estimate prior to work commencing? Will it include all permits, materials, labor? What are the payment terms? Do they offer a warranty on their work?
Once you feel confident with your contractor list, keep all of their details documented and easily accessible. Some programs for landlords and PM's include vendor management. If you haven't already found a program, I recommend choosing an online property management software so you'll always be able to access your information, even if you're away from the office/home.