Everywhere you go everybody always gives you the same advice on how to choose a contractor. They simply say get three estimates, and call the Better Business Bureau. There is a much better way to hire a contractor to ensure you get what you want; a quality job at a fair price. Don’t get three estimates.

Basically most people including contractors are fair and honest. They want to perform a service for you and get paid so they can provide for their family just as you need to provide for yours. Why everybody assumes and implies that contractors in general are swindlers simply isn’t fair or correct.

You may hear on the news that a homeowner lost a substantial amount of money from a corrupt contractor. What you don’t hear about is the other thousands of contractors providing good quality work on a daily basis.

The advice of getting three estimates for every job is bad advice. What most people will do when they get three estimates is to naturally choose the lowest bid. People are like electricity – they follow the path of least resistance. A few are enlightened and will choose the average bid, versus the highest or the lowest. But either way, having three contractors come do a free estimate for you leads to bad service for everybody.

A contractors time is very valuable just as yours is. Now when you get an estimate and inform this contractor that you are going to get three bids, you are implying that his ethics may be lacking, which isn’t very nice. You have also put a lot of pressure on him because he needs the work to feed his family and keep his employees working. Naturally he is going to give you the lowest bid he can to ensure he gets the job. In turn the other two contractors that follow him are going to need the job also. So depending on how desperate they are for work will depend how low they will bid to get this job. This constant form of playing cutthroat with their competitors leads them to underbid jobs just so they have work.

After they lose money on a job they are even more desperate to get the next job. What this does is leads contractors into financial problems and it leads to bad service, not being able to do the job correctly and a lot of stress for them. This can cause even a man with the sturdiest ethics to lose his footing. He will want to perform a quality job as agreed but when he doesn’t have any money to pay his employees or to buy materials he simply can’t do it.

If everybody always has three free estimates performed then it takes the contractors away from supervising their employees on your job site. You made a contract with him, and he is whom you will want to communicate with during the job. If he is off giving free estimates and not able to watch his employees, the quality of the job may suffer. In addition if an employee gets hurt, a water pipe breaks, or they run out of supplies the job will stop right there. All in all, insisting on three estimates does everybody a disservice and leads to unhappy people, including you.

Somehow people get the idea that contractors make a lot of money. I was a contractor and I know that is not correct. It is a very competitive business and it isn’t hard to lose a substantial amount of money very quickly.

The best way to hire a contractor is via word of mouth. If you need some work done and you see a contractors sign in a yard, stop and talk to him. Look at his project, the safety measures, his employees, the quality of his tools and the quality of his work. Talk to the owner and see if he is pleased with the work. Call the Better Business Bureau and ask about this contractor. The BBB can be circumvented because they register contractors by their phone number. With cell phones, unethical contractors can change their business name, get a new cell phone number and place a new ad in the newspaper. So check to see if their phone number is a home phone number or a cell phone. It is always better to locate a contractor in the phone book, if you don’t go by word of mouth.

Once you have located a contractor that you deem does the quality work you want done, ask for an estimate. Tell him you would like the estimate to be itemized with the materials and labor separate.

A good rule of thumb for estimates is that the labor will be double the amount of materials. A smaller job will be more for labor.

When he brings a contract ask him to also bring his insurance binder that certifies he has current liability insurance. If he requires a down payment inform him that you would prefer to make the first payment after a fair amount of work has been done. If he has a problem with that and indicates any sign of financial trouble you may want to rethink your choice. Before you sign the contract get a verbal or written agreement from him that he will be on site during the job.

If you take these steps your experience with a contractor will be pleasant. Do your part and recommend the good contractor to your friends. Never get three free estimates. This same advice to protect you against consumer fraud is the cause of the problem.

Copyright 2006 By Dale B. Adams


  • Dale Adams of Adams LLC is the author and self publisher of the new book, “Care Giving Made Easy – How to be an Awesome Caregiver" and the inventor of the, “Money Saving Calendar,” a new information vehicle that informs consumers how to save and make money every month of the year. His many experiences include being a Security Consultant, General Contractor and Energy Conservation Specialist.