How to Choose a Great Contractor

Throughout my married life, I have engaged a number of contractors to work on various renovation / refurbishment at my house. We’ve had one decent one, and the rest were sloppy. But along the way we have learned how to “interview” potential contractors. Here’s some of the things we’ve learned:

1. Insist to see the physical result of their work. Never trust a portfolio book, because it doesn’t show you the quality of their workmanship. When you physically see a kitchen they’ve built, you can see if if the counter tops are level and whether or not they totally seal every gap between the wall and the furnitures to prevent ant breeding.

2. Do not always trust your friend’s recommendation, unless you have seen their apartment / house. Different people have different perception to what “decent” means. We have had a couple of recommendations from friends, and -to us- both of them were sloppy. We made a huge mistake of not looking at their house before hiring the contractor they recommended.

3. If they don’t want to have an itemized written contract with you, immediately walk them out of your door. I’ve had a couple of occasions where the contractor only gave me a handwritten contract with a lump sum amount, despite my repeated requests to itemize the price and include the payment terms, warranty period, and measurements of the work. I shooed them right away when they hesitated to do that.

4. Choose a contractor that has their own workers. Many contractors only have freelance workers who moonlight from company to company on a daily rate. This doesn’t give you consistency of quality. We experienced working with an interior designer who kept sending us a different worker to correct the work of the previous person … and oh boy, the problems did not go away for months, not until the designer (finally!) sent us the exact worker who did the initial job. On the contrary, our aircon maintenance company always sends us the same technicians, who over time knew the conditions of our aircon inside out and know how to fix every little thing in a snap.

5. Never hire someone on first impression. We’ve had a number of occasions where the person we met gave an excellent first impression, only to find out a few meetings later that they’re always late, they no longer took notes during meetings, they always try to find escape goats instead of resolving problems, etc. Make sure you do your rounds … sit down with a number of contractors to get a better feeling of who can do the job better.

6. Know what you want. If you know what you want, you won’t be easily swayed and lured in by contractors to buy or do things that you don’t need. They can suggest things along the way, once the trust is established, but make sure they know that you’re the boss, you’re in charge, and you know what you’re doing. Many contractors have tried persuading me into dividing my living room and dining room, putting wooden beams on my ceiling, painting my wall deep purple, to building a false wall for concealed TV cabling. I’m glad I stayed on my original plan. These additions would have cost me more than $10,000 extra, and I wouldn’t have liked the result.

7. Do not be deceived by HDB license or CASE certification. Most people who live in HDBs are picky about price, but not necessarily workmanship. As in the case of CASE certificate, they pay a membership for it and generally speaking, CASE doesn’t have the manpower to inspect their quality of work.

With these seven points in mind, hopefully you will never sign a contract with a lousy contractor 🙂


~ by elinski on December 19, 2008.

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