In the days before the internet and instant communications, finding a reputable contractor could be very difficult. Investigating a contractor's background was a tedious chore. The single most reliable source at that time was personal recommendations.
Today there are many ways to verify a contractor's record, but personal referrals are still at the top of the list when I am considering candidates for my job.
When I needed to replace my roof last year, I got three written estimates from certified contractors. Number one on my list was the company who replaced my neighbor's roof. I was comfortable having them on my list because I had seen them do their work.
I understood why my neighbor recommended the company so highly when their representative did two things the other candidates didn't. First, he showed up with a list of hundreds of references and invited me to call any of them. Some of them were in my neighborhood, and it took me less than half a day to confirm the contractor's excellent reputation.
Second, he gave me proof that his company was certified by the manufacturer as a Master Elite Roofing Contractor.
That made my investigation a lot easier. My next step was to contact the manufacturer to find out if the certification meant real qualifications or marketing hype. Reviewing the manufacturer's website and talking with local people in the business proved to me the certification really does mean "elite."
Certification: the New Standard
Certifications have become the construction industry standard. According to HGTV star and radio host Wallace "Wally" Conway, owner of HomePro Inspections in Jacksonville, Florida, it has become a necessity for success in the business. But beware. "All certifications are not alike," Wally said in a phone interview. "You need to know what "certified" means." He agrees that the certification, at a minimum, should include these qualifications:
- Licenses and insurance. The number one requirement.
- Financial stability. Certifiers should investigate the company's financial history and current liquidity.
- Track record of quality work. This should require a very high ongoing customer satisfaction rating.
- Experience in the exact type of materials and installations you are planning. Most certifiers will require at least two years.
- Commitment to ongoing professional training. Top manufacturers and other certifying authorities require training at least annually. Good contractors stay on top of technology trends.
Several national nonprofit associations in home building and remodeling provide certification and referral services:
- The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) provides a broad range of certifications. Among them are:
- Certified Remodeler (CR): a professional remodeler who provides a full range of remodeling services. Candidates must prove they possess skill and knowledge in a broad range of business management and technical skill areas.
- Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS): a professional remodeler who specializes in a specific type of work, such as concrete and masonry, electrical, insulation, mechanical systems, plumbing systems and roofing and siding.
- Green Certified Professional (GCP): Designed to recognize and identify remodelers who apply green or sustainable principles to their remodeling projects. ("Certifications." National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Accessed August 2, 2015).
- The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) provides lists of contractors in your area who meet their code of ethics.
- Certified Contractors Network requires contractors to adhere to a code of ethics that includes all of the legal, financial and experience requirements and many more ("Code of Ethics." Certified Contractors Network. Accessed July 30, 2015).
- The Vinyl Siding Institute certifies installers who have two years of experience, pass a rigorous examination, and attend a training course. A registry listing all Certified Trainers and Certified Installers is available online ("VSI Certified Installers." Vinyl Siding Institute. Accessed July 30, 2015).
Many manufacturers have certification programs for contractors who install their products. Manufacturers have a vital interest in recommending only high-quality contractors. If contractors do not do good work, the manufacturer has to deal with the complaints, and the manufacturer's reputation suffers.
For contractors, certification boosts their credibility and their income. I talked with Fred Smith of K&D Roofing, a GAF certified Master Elite contractor, about certification. He says elite status not only gives K&D instant credibility, but it also enables them to offer a manufacturer-backed 25-year materials and labor warranty. Most labor warranties are ten years.
The James Hardie Company and Mastic Home Exteriors are two good examples of certification in the siding industry. James Hardie has a Contractor Alliance Program that certifies contractors who meet their standards ("Contractor Alliance." James Hardie Building Products Inc. Accessed August 10, 2015).
Mastic Home Exteriors, a vinyl siding producer, has certifications for Mastic Preferred Contractors and Mastic Elite Contractors ("Preferred Contractors." Mastic Home Exteriors. Access August 10, 2015).
Many metropolitan areas have associations in which builders and contractors band together to monitor and enforce standards in their area. A good place to start would be the licensing authority for your city or county or your local chamber of commerce, or search for associations related to your particular project.
Online Rating Services
Some online referral services investigate and certify their member contractors before they will recommend them. Others rely wholly on customer recommendations and only investigate when there is a problem. If you want to use an online service such as HomeAdvisor or Angie's List, it's probably a good idea to investigate what they do.
Do Your Homework
Certification can go a long way toward building trust with your contractor, but seeking out installer certifications can be difficult. You can shortcut this by asking your contractor candidates for proof of certification, and then follow up on it.
If there is no certification for a specialty required by your project, ask your candidates for proof of licensing and insurance. Get references and call them. Ask for banking references and call the contractor's suppliers. They know who the reliable ones are.
I hope this helps you make the right choice for your next project.