Property owners with damage to be repaired need to find a quality contractor.  Yet most property owners are not regularly consumers of construction services.  The following is a framework for finding a quality contractor to handle storm, fire, or water damage.

The Basic Criteria

Some criteria are common to all builders and not just those handling insured losses.  Property owners should want to see state licensure, insurance for errors, responsive customer service, and realistic quotes.  Property owners solely focused on the cheapest price makes the mistake of thinking about building as a mere commodity to be bought and sold at the lowest price.  This plays to the strength of contractors that “fudge” an estimate, either by omitting items almost certain to be in within the scope of repair, or unrealistic labor or material pricing.  When that happens a property owner gets an unpleasant surprise.

Wise property owners make sure the scope of repair is comprehensive.  If property owners obtain multiple bids they should go deeper than comparing the final price.  Property owners ought to compare the scope and then ask contractors why certain line items are omitted.  Once satisfied with the scope, property owners should ask why some line items for certain materials differ between contractors.  I would advise property owners to go with the thoughtful response rather than the cheapest.

The most thoughtful response is not necessarily the same thing as the most expensive response.  Some contractors may not have certain line items in their estimates because that work is contained within other line items.  For example, some contractors may have a line item for all “soft metals” rather than break-out vents and exhaust pipes.  Good contractors do what they can to find good materials at the lowest price.

My advice to property owners is to hire a contractor after asking thoughtful questions and receiving satisfactory responses.  It is wrong to simply focus on the finding the best door knob at the lowest price.  Consider the service you are buying:  the service of understanding the scope, estimating a repair, and deploying the best people to address it.

Criteria for Insured Damage

Another criteria should be applied to contractors that remedy storm, fire, water, or other insured damage.  Insurance companies often quote projects with greater specificity using computer software.  A good contractor is familiar with that software and is either using it to estimate the project, or is using it to understand the insurer’s adjustment.

The insurance company will issue an adjustment that details the labor and materials price for each gutter, window, etc.  It is not uncommon for a $100,000 repair job to be itemized with 100 line items.  A good contractor will be familiar with these adjustments and will either create an estimate that either mirrors the adjustment, or generate its own estimate with similar categories (i.e. the roof, specific rooms, etc.).

A good contractor will want to “handle” the project for the property owner but will also know the limits imposed by state law.  In two of the three states where I am licensed a contractor may not argue with an insurer about how the insurance policy reads or how state law applies to the scope of repair – except the building codes.  A good contractor knows these limits, and trains its sales force to honor the limitations.

One good indicator of a contractor that knows its limits is a review of the contractor’s customer contract.  A customer contract that recognizes state law indicates the builder has considered the limitations imposed by state law.  A contract that is short with no reference to modifications imposed by state law – such as a right to rescind after a home solicit – indicates the builder has never taken the time to consider the law.  A good contractor will know his, her or its limitations and will go no farther.  Contractors who refer property owners to public adjusters, attorneys, or other professionals for legal issues are people that understand his or her wheelhouse.

If you need help finding a proper contractor do not hesitate to contact me.