Eight Biggest Mistakes People Make When Selecting a Contractor—and How to Avoid Them
Mistake #1: Selecting a contractor based on lowest price only.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” This is especially true in the contracting business. If you want good contracting, choose a contractor because of the overall value you receive, NOT because they are the cheapest. Here’s why:
Value = Quality + Service + Price
Just like any business, if you hire qualified people and buy quality products, you need to charge more for your services. It is impossible for any company, in any industry, to offer the lowest rate, have the highest quality, and provide the best service—all at the same time. It’s intuitive: You can get high quality and super service, but you can’t get both and still receive the lowest price. Total value is all three: quality, service, and price!
The three most common problems you can expect to have when you select a contractor who only offers the lowest price:
- Poor follow-through. Dirt-cheap contractors don’t usually stand behind their work if there is a mistake. Other contractors might do your job for a bit less money, but how will they treat you when there is a mistake with your job? The secret to cheap pricing is low-wage, inexperienced employees that have not been adequately trained, so mistakes are basically guaranteed. The end result is that the little bit of money you saved winds up costing you more in the long run! These contractors are the ones who won’t return your call and won’t come back to make things right, leaving you to find a more reputable company and pay twice for the same job.
- Low quality. Your furnace and air conditioner are the biggest appliances in your home and one of the best investments you can make if installed properly. Plainly said, “Shoddy or low-quality contracting because of cheap prices costs you money.” No amount of savings is worth this. You’ve worked too hard and spent too much money on your home. Why throw it away to save a few pennies on a contractor?
- Extra “hidden” charges. Low-priced contractors charge you extra for things that weren’t included in your original quote; things like filters, thermostats, and overtime due to bad estimates. Cheap contractors nickel-and-dime you to death, so what seemed like a good price actually ends up costing more in the end. This is a tactic that cheap contractors use to get their foot in the door.
To avoid buying on price alone, we suggest you choose two or three contractors and rank them in order of importance. For example, “Quality first, service second, and price last.”
Mistake #2: Thinking all contractors are the same.
No two contractors are the same. Every contractor has different equipment and different employees who know how to do certain kinds of jobs well. Every company has a different number of employees, each with different abilities. Contracting is art and craftsmanship combined. Most people who hire contractors don’t truly understand that despite all the technological advances, contractors still use the same quality work habits as 20 years ago.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, heating and cooling is not just banging on the furnace, changing filters or recharging air conditioners. It takes craftsmanship to turn out quality work. Contractors have to diagnose, measure and perform complicated calculations before they begin a job.
Communication is the key to picking the best contractor for you. Ask:
- What type of work they do.
- What their average turnaround is.
- Whether they work weekends.
- Other questions unique to your needs.
The answers to these questions will help you decide whether they are the best contractor for YOU!
After you ask these questions, it will become obvious which company you should choose. The company that wants your business will prove to you that they are the best contractor to manage your job. Take time to decide which contractor you would like to use, but when you decide, you must be loyal to them.
Mistake #3: Always having three or more contractors competing for the lowest bid.
You may think this is a good way to do business, and it is, to some extent. However, here is why it usually isn’t a good way to deal with contractors. A good contractor has enough loyal customers that they don’t need to deal with price shoppers. Once you find a good contractor, make the decision to be loyal to them. If you flip-flop from contractor to contractor, a good one won’t be motivated to keep YOU as a customer.
Price is important. But price should not be more important than good quality and good service.
This is what people typically like to do. They try to get everyone fighting for the same piece of pie. This might be an appropriate short-term strategy, because you save a few bucks. However, when you need a favor, or require expedited service, not one of these companies will instantly bend over backward to help you. (And, if you have been a price shopper in the past, they will even charge you more!) Every good contractor expects to bend over backward for loyal customers now and again. He or she might have to work all night or on a weekend to do a rush job or pull off a miracle. Provided the customer is
loyal, the contractor will do all he can to help meet their needs.
Quality contractors will be loyal to you if YOU are loyal to them. Keep loyalty in mind when you select a company.
Mistake #4: Thinking that having the right equipment is all a contractor needs to do your job.
Many contractors own great equipment, but that doesn’t mean they know how to use it. You can have the “latest, greatest technological wonder gizmo,” but if you don’t know how to use it properly, you are better off not even picking the darn thing up.
Compare this to using all of the complicated controls on your DVD player. Studies show that half the people who own a DVD player don’t even know how to set the clock, let alone use its advanced features. The same thing happens in the contracting industry.
Many contractors have tools with a lot of bells and whistles, but if they don’t know how to use the new features, you might as well go to a company that has old equipment.
Make sure the technician is trained by the factory or by another competent company. This ensures your work will get done right the first time, on time!
Mistake #5: Not giving your contractor enough time to complete the job properly.
Mistakes happen when you rush! When you’re in a hurry, you may forget to tell a contractor certain instructions, or you might make an error in judgment or a poor purchasing decision because you were focused on getting it done fast—instead of getting it done right.
Schedule. Schedule. Schedule.
Before you start on your contracting project, talk with your contractor. Get them involved from the beginning; you can save time, money, and headaches from the beginning by communicating with your contractor.
Think of your contractor as your “project partner.” Consult with your contractor. Let them know in advance what you want installed or repaired. A good contractor will do their best to keep you in the loop and up to date on how the project is progressing.
Mistake #6: Selecting contractors who don’t guarantee their work.
All reputable contractors automatically guarantee their work. This means that if they make a mistake on your job, they will redo or fix it at NO CHARGE. Unfortunately, there are contractors who don’t do this: don’t fix their mistakes and don’t make good on their work.
The best thing you can do is choose a contractor who unconditionally guarantees their work. If it’s not done right and it’s their mistake, they will do it again or fix it.
Mistake #7: Not asking for references.
This is probably the easiest way you can avoid any problems with a contractor. ALL good, reputable contractors will eagerly give you references. Ask your contractor to give you at least three names of people they have done business with. And, ask them how long they have worked with these customers.
Inquire about what type of job they did for those references. Try to get the names of customers who had similar projects to yours. This is the easiest way to select the right contractor for YOU.
Mistake #8: Not Understanding the “lingo.”
All right, this wasn’t one of the original “seven mistakes” for this guidance, but it IS important. It is so important, in fact, that we’ve decided to define the most common heating and air conditioning terms so you understand what contractors are saying!
BTU (British Thermal Unit): The amount of energy that’s needed to change the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. This is how you measure heat removed from your home.
COIL: Looks like a radiator on a car, and usually installed inside the box on top of your furnace. It takes the heat and moisture out of the air as the refrigerant (what you might know as “Freon”) evaporates.
CONDENSER: This is the unit outside the home that’s usually making all the noise (at least in the older models). The condenser holds the compressor, which is the heart of your system. In addition, it transforms your refrigerant (Freon) from a gas to a liquid. Finally, there’s a fan discharging heat to the outdoors.
REFRIGERANT: This is the real name for what many people call “Freon.” It’s the fluid that evaporates at low temperatures and pulls heat and humidity out of the air.
SEER & AFUE: Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating and Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. Higher SEER-rated equipment uses electricity more efficiently. Air conditioners and coils are rated by SEER. Furnaces are rated by AFUE.
SPLIT SYSTEM: The most common system in the country. Some components are inside the home, and others are outside. The inside is the furnace and evaporator coil. Outside is the condensing unit.
TON: The unit used to measure the capacity of an air conditioning system. One ton of air conditioning removes 12,000 BTUs of heat energy per hour from your home.