When getting ready to hire a contractor, you should always get 3 estimates! Isn’t that what we’re always told? It’s how your father always hired someone. And it’s what the media always says to do. It’s how we protect ourselves from schysters, right? We get three bids, and take the lowest or the middle, never the highest. But is this really the best way to choose a contractor? Seems like it’s still a bit of a crap shoot. See the Insider tips below to possibly save yourself some time and effort –and maybe even heartache.
Get 3 Water Feature Estimates
You want a water feature. Time to shop. We all know the routine: First, you spend time calling around to every contractor in the area, and then waiting for a return phone call (because you know how contractors are), and maybe even playing phone tag for a few days, or weeks, because you’re busy, too.
Let’s say you find three contractors that actually return your call in a reasonable amount of time. Now, you have to schedule the appointments, and wait at home for them to show up. That’s IF they show up.
Let’s assume they do show up. They do a little tap dance for you, spill their dump truck of “expertise,” expound all their ideas about what THEY THINK you want, and promise to get you an estimate “right away.”
Then, a week, or two, later, you get the estimate. It’s vague and ambiguous, and you’re not sure you remember exactly what you talked about with them – because you talked to three people.
And let’s assume that all three actually do send you estimates. Can you tell if they’re all bidding the exact same thing, or did they all have different ideas of what you should do? Can you compare apples to apples, or are you looking at apples and oranges? Did they all include everything you were asking for?
And just getting three estimates DOES NOT guarantee that you’ll choose the right contractor. Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience here.
Might there be an easier way to get through this shopping process?
Use the Technology
If you’re reading this, we’ll assume you have access to the internet. You know it’s for more than Facebook, right? With a little effort and a couple of hours of reading, you might become knowledgeable enough that you can get three estimates just from three phone conversations. Or, better yet, if you do your due diligence BEFORE you contact a contractor, you might not have to go through the arduous and time-consuming task of getting three estimates at all, but will know who you want to hire before you pick up the phone. There’s a time-saver.
Insider tip: Before beginning your investigation, make sure you’re clear on who you’re looking for, and what you want to see about the contractor you hire, as well as what you want to hear from them. For example, if you want a pond, do you want a contractor that installs living ecosystems, or are you more interested in a sterile environment? If you’re looking for flooring, do you want someone who specializes in eco-friendly renewable resources, or just the cheapest thing you can get that looks pretty good because you’re going to sell this house in a few years?
This is the FIRST think you should check! Make sure the contractor you’re considering is licensed with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors, and in good standing. Check to see if they have any complaints, resolved or unresolved. Insider tip: Don’t just assume that a contractor is bad because they have a complaint. People can be rather litigious these days, so read through the documents to make sure that the person isn’t just blowing smoke. And read the company’s response to make sure that it was handled in a professional and classy manner.
You can get a good read on a company simply by reading what other people think of them. There are A LOT of sites where you can check someone out: Facebook, Google, Houzz, Hometalk, Angie’s List, Yelp, Thumbtack, etc. Insider tip: if a company has NO less-than-stellar reviews, they may be faking it, so take a REAL close look.
Referrals & Testimonials
Most reputable companies will post testimonials on their website. Don’t take their word for it, though! Insider tip: If the testimonials are real, there should be some that can be contacted directly as a referral. Do it. Ask them about their experience. Ask if they’d hire that company again. Ask how long ago the work was done, and how it’s held up over time. Heck, some of them may even invite you over to see it! And, you never know: you might even make a new friend, to boot.
What’s their website look like? Do they even have one? Is their website all about sales, or is there good information being presented? Can you read about THEM, their story, etc., or is it just a big storefront? Can you see their passion, their company culture, their philosophy, etc.?
Do they have a photo gallery for you to peruse? And don’t just look at the pretty pictures. If you’re looking at an outdoor home improvement, analyze the photos a bit to make sure that they represent the contractor’s work here in Arizona. Believe it or not, some people may have stolen photos of other contractors’ work, or the photos may have been taken in New York, and they have little to no experience with our Sonoran desert environment.
Do they have a blog with good current content? Read through some articles and see if they seem to be an expert in their field. Are they saying what you want to hear? Is the information kept current, or did they post their last blog article a couple of years ago?
If this home improvement is something that requires occasional maintenance, does this contractor provide that service? If not, you might want to ask yourself why not? Insider tip: the “we’re too big to do maintenance” is a cop-out; maintenance is the bread and butter of a business that thinks long-term and cares about keeping in touch with their clients beyond the initial installation.
Have a Conversation
Now that you’ve done your research, you may have narrowed it down to just one contractor. Or maybe you have 2 or 3 that you’d like to talk to. Call them. And have an HONEST conversation with them. Tell them what you want. Are they saying what you want to hear? Are they really listening to you, or are they telling you what THEY think you should do? Do you feel that they care about what you’re saying? Do they value themselves? Can they do what you want within the budget you’ve set?
Insider tip: Beware the contractor that wants to run right out and give you a “free” estimate without first having a conversation with you to make sure they’re a good fit. A lot of contractors spend hours and hours running all over town to give free estimates, to the detriment of being able to provide good service to paying clients -- there are only so many hours in a day, after all. You don’t want someone who spreads themselves too thin right from the get-go. What will the rest of the experience be like? And, let’s face it, nothing in life is “free.” The paying clients are covering their time to visit the “tire kickers.”
Reputable Water Feature Contractors
As a water feature specialist, we know who does good work in this town. The biggest Insider tip in this article is to check out these folks if you’re looking to hire a water feature contractor. Although they each have a different philosophy on water feature construction methods, we believe they are reputable contractors.
Pondscapes of Arizona
Crosstimber Koi & Pondering
Aquatec Fountains & Ponds
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Barbi Holdeman, co-owner of The Pond Gnome, enjoys sharing their 20+ years of education & experience with you! She writes about Phoenix Ecosystem Pond Installation, Pond Maintenance, Wildlife around the Pond, Koi and Goldfish in the Pond, and the Pond Lifestyle. If you enjoy what she writes, please share it!