How to find the right con­trac­tor

The Palm Beach Post - Residences - - Front Page -

Do you plan to sell a home in a tor­rid real estate mar­ket -- a place where prospects line up with of­fers? Are buy­ers there so ea­ger they’re will­ing to waive the right to a home in­spec­tion?

If so, you might as­sume you could take a pas­sive ap­proach to the sell­ing process and do just as well as neigh­bors who in­vest time, en­ergy and money to present their place for sale in the best pos­si­ble con­di­tion.

But Dy­lan Chalk, a home in­spec­tor who’s done 5,500 in­spec­tions since en­ter­ing the field in 2003, says home­own­ers who take a proac­tive ap­proach to sell­ing fare far bet­ter than those who are pas­sive, even in very hot mar­kets.

“Just be­cause your buy­ers don’t hire an in­spec­tor doesn’t mean they won’t be dis­ap­pointed later when they dis­cover prob­lems with your property. ... If buy­ers run into prob­lems later, that could ruin an oth­er­wise smooth sale,” says Chalk, who’s af­fil­i­ated with the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Home In­spec­tors (home­in­spec­tor.org).

“You want to take con­trol of your sale, not have it take con­trol of you,” says Chalk, au­thor of “The Con­fi­dent House Hunter,” a book for buy­ers.

It’s true that an ex­pe­ri­enced list­ing agent can quite eas­ily iden­tify mi­nor re­pairs that need to be done be­fore your place is shown for sale. But it of­ten takes the ex­per­tise of a home in­spec­tor to de­tect larger is­sues.

Chalk is a strong ad­vo­cate for what’s known as a “pre-list­ing home in­spec­tion.”

“Of­ten, sim­ple things can come up on a home in­spec­tion that can be­come much more com­pli­cated when the clock is tick­ing un­der a pend­ing of­fer. You want to at­tack tricky re­pair items on your own time frame,” he says.

R. Dodge Wood­son, au­thor of mul­ti­ple books on home re­pairs and re­mod­el­ing, says many sell­ers — es­pe­cially those in in­ven­tory-tight mar­kets — are re­luc­tant to go for­ward with pre-sale re­pairs be­cause of the cost and in­con­ve­nience in­volved.

“Most peo­ple are ex­tremely busy and find­ing the right con­trac­tors can be very time-con­sum­ing,” he says.

Still, he says it’s im­por­tant to spend the time it takes to search for the right con­trac­tors for your re­pair work.

Here are a few point­ers for sell­ers:

Make a wide search for the best avail­able con­trac­tors

Wood­son ad­vises against us­ing on­line ad­ver­tis­ing to hunt for con­trac­tors. A more reli­able ap­proach, he says, is to seek rec­om­men­da­tions from friends, neigh­bors or work as­so­ci­ates.

“Ask every­one you know for names. Con­sider this a trea­sure hunt,” Wood­son says.

Be­sides those in your im­me­di­ate cir­cle, Eric Tyson, co-au­thor of “House Sell­ing for Dum­mies,” says you may wish to garner con­trac­tors’ names through the real estate agent with whom you are work­ing to list your home.

“Re­al­tors can be re­ally good sources be­cause they have lots of in­ter­ac­tions with con­trac­tors. They’ll hear com­plaints if a con­trac­tor does a lousy job,” Tyson says.

Also, con­trac­tors may be more at­ten­tive to your project if they know you might com­plain about their work to the agent, which could hurt their chances for re­peat busi­ness.

Yet another way that Tyson sug­gests you search for re­fer­rals is through an on­line con­sumer rat­ing ser­vice, such as Angie’s List. This com­pany pro­vides re­views on ser­vice providers in more than 200 metropoli­tan ar­eas.

Get mul­ti­ple es­ti­mates for large jobs

Wood­son, who has worked much of his ca­reer as a li­censed plumber and has also run his own home im­prove­ment com­pany, strongly rec­om­mends that home­own­ers ob­tain five es­ti­mates for any job ex­pected to cost more than $1,000.

Why five es­ti­mates? Be­cause ex­pe­ri­ence has taught Wood­son that con­sumers need a range of bids to gain perspective on pric­ing.

“What you usu­ally want is a con­trac­tor in the mid­dle of the pack on price. You can throw away an es­ti­mate from any­one who comes in 25 per­cent or more above or be­low the others in the pack. The guy at the top is charg­ing too much, and the one at the bot­tom is prob­a­bly cut­ting cor­ners,” he says.

Learn more about a con­trac­tor by vis­it­ing other clients’ homes

After you’ve nar­rowed the con­trac­tors’ field with a com­par­i­son of price es­ti­mates, you may think your next step is to ask any com­pany you’re con­sid­er­ing for ref­er­ences. But Wood­son says this is usu­ally a “point­less ex­er­cise.”

“You don’t know if that ref­er­ence is re­ally some­one’s brother-in-law or maybe some­one else the com­pany hired to say good things about them,” he says.

Also, Wood­son says it’s a mis­take to rely on pho­tos the con­trac­tor has sent to you via email.

“How do you know that these pic­tures show the con­trac­tor’s real work? Even if they do, the pho­tos could have been doc­tored,” Wood­son says.

To get a truer, bet­ter sense of a con­trac­tor’s work, ask to visit homes where the firm is now work­ing or has re­cently com­pleted jobs.

“Sure, some­one from the com­pany has to call clients to get their per­mis­sion for you to come over. But even so, the com­pany shouldn’t balk at let­ting you see their work. If they do, you’ve got to won­der what they’re hid­ing. This is a big red flag,” Wood­son says.

Ellen James Martin

Smart Moves

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