Choose Your Roofing Contractor Wisely
It's a struggle for many property owners to address the repair and maintenance needs of their buildings. There is often too much to know and too little time to get to know it. What they do know is that a failing roof compromises the well-being of their assets, putting them in jeopardy of irreparable damage - from equipment and computers to furnishings and even employees. They are in a similar situation to a person with a medical need. Does that individual really have the time and ability to learn the medical industry to such an extent so as to have the ability to self-diagnose and treat themselves? Hardly! Well, it's really no different when it comes to roofing and repair and maintenance needs. A property owner has to put his faith and trust in someone else less he become paralyzed by indecision or is forced into making a decision that s/he is just not qualified to make, leading to unwanted consequences.
Enter the roofing contractor! But with some roofing contractors more focused on profits than truly being a source of legitimate help, how is a property owner to choose which roofing contractor he can trust? Let's face it, some roofing contractors are down-right dishonest and completely lacking in integrity. A mistake in one's choice or roofing contractor can have severe and costly consequences. So, what should you look for when choosing your roofing contractor.
Comparing Apples to Oranges
Before a property owner is ever going to make the right decision regarding which roofing contractor to use, it is imperative that he understand this very simple truth: It is always the owner's responsibility to make the right decision. If the right choice is made the owner basks in the glory of a job well done. But if the wrong choice is made, even before the contractor is condemned, the owner must recognize the he shares the full extent and responsibility of that decision. Granted, the contractor may be at fault for failing to live up to their end of the bargain. But since it is the owner that bears the consequences, it must be the owner who takes the responsibility for the contractor they chose to use. This is even the case when an owner hires a property or facility manager to address this important task because ultimately the buck still stops with the owner. It may not be fair, but it is reality. So how does a property owner arm themselves with the knowledge needed to make sure they are choosing the right roofing contractor?
Do your homework. There are so many roofing contractors from which to choose that it may seem like a daunting task to verify the quality and credibility of any particular one. So when you are reviewing a contractor, what specifically should you look for? When you're comparing one roofing contractor to another, be sure to be consistent. Comparing apples to oranges often ends up in giving you lemons. Instead, compare apples to apples and you'll be in a better position to make a fair and balanced decision.
Do They Have a Web Site?
In this day and age, a Web site can help demonstrate that a roofing contractor is here to stay. You gain some insights into whether they care about their reputation or if they are simply online for the sake of being online. Web sites can be very difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to create. You, as the property owner, need to be able to read between the lines as you review a roofing contractor's Web sites. For example, maybe a contractor pays thousands and thousands of dollars to have a Web site designed and developed that just blows your socks off when you first view it; it's pretty, has integrated moving images, and "looks" very professional. But when you 'read between the lines' you realize that the site doesn't tell you much about the contractor or what they do. It's mostly fluff.
On the other hand, you may find a roofing contractor's Web site that isn't as pretty and doesn't have the bells and whistles of their competition. But again, as you 'read between the lines' you realize that they take great care to inform you about who they are and what they do. You see that their Web site is educational. In such a case, the content itself can tell you much more about the quality of that roofing contractor than the Web site's design. Of course, a sloppy design, outdated information, and the like also tell you something about the contractor. Having a well-designed Web site with useable content can be a big help in weeding out the good from the bad. So it needs to be taken into consideration. But it's just a piece of the overall puzzle, and the puzzle has lots of pieces.
Are They Members of the Better Business Bureau?
Just because a contractor isn't a member of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) doesn't necessarily make them inferior. After all, it takes money to be a part of the BBB. In a tough economy many contractors cannot afford or don't want to spend the money required to have the Better Business Bureau logo and rating for their company. On the other hand, some roofing contractors just don't see the importance of being a part of the BBB or they fear the affects of poor ratings. But the savvy property owner might think "If they don't have enough money to be a part of the BBB or don't care enough to be involved, how successful, credible, and interested in the outcome of my roofing project can they really be?" That would be a legitimate question because the Better Business Bureau protects the consumer as much as - if not more than - the contractor.
Ironically, many would argue that the Better Business Bureau should give itself a poor rating. Some think it is a scam to force businesses into paying for their services. But generally speaking, the Better Business Bureau is a watchdog that requires "hearing out" both sides before any position is taken. This is very different than some Web sites that are set up to allow anonymous users - even disgruntled former employees - to simply vent about a company in order to "get back at them" without any need for substantiation or 3rd-party review. As it relates to the Better Business Bureau, however, if an owner has a problem with a contractor who is a member, then the efforts to resolve the problem - whether good or bad - reflect in the contractor's Better Business Bureau rating. Therefore, a high rating indicates (1) the contractor works hard to resolve any problems in behalf of their customers, leaving the customers satisfied, (2) the contractor doesn't have many problems that need to be resolved in the first place, or (3) a combination of both. So, if nothing else, a Better Business Bureau rating gives you some legitimate and useable information that forms another big piece of the puzzle. So don't ignore it.
On the other hand, while a high Better Business Bureau rating is a good sign, it may not tell the whole story. Some owners may not know how to inform the Better Business Bureau of problems that they've had with a particular contractor. Therefore, it is possible, though unlikely, to be a poor contractor and still have a high BBB rating. A contractor may have all kinds of problems with their customers, but end up negotiating settlements to appease the owners so that no negative feedback is presented to the Bureau. So, although a low Better Business Bureau rating should alert you to run away, a high one is not in itself the only piece of contractor information you must look at. A shrewd owner will take the Better Business Bureau accreditation and rating into consideration, and from that determine whether it adds to an overall positive perception of the roofing contractor or not.
If they don't have enough money to be a part of the BBB or don't care enough to be involved, how successful, credible, and interested in the outcome of my roofing project can they really be?
Do They Have References and Testimonials?
If you request a list of references, will they give one to you? Do they have testimonials that they can share with you? Do these references and testimonials contain recent information or are they largely outdated? If they do provide you with a list of references, take the time to call a few of them, especially the recent ones as these may be a better indicator of current contractor circumstances. If for some reason the reference list does not contain contact information, request it. If you don't get it, go on to another contractor. You want to be able to confirm with other property owners the quality of the roofing contractor that you are going to be putting your financial faith and trust in. If the contractor makes that hard or impossible to do, then you've got to ask yourself "why?"
But just like with the BBB status, a contractor that doesn't have a list of references or testimonials may not mean that they are an unworthy contractor. In fact, they could still be an outstanding roofing contractor, but just a little ignorant regarding how to market themselves. In today's day and age, the best marketer usually wins. But good marketing doesn't in itself mean a good roofing contractor. As the property owner, it is your job to put all the pieces together. Missing pieces need to be addressed, clarified; i.e. why no BBB status or rating?, why no reference list with contact information?, etc. In such cases, give the contractor an opportunity to address those missing pieces by calling them and asking them about it, and then pay close attention to their response. Since most contractors will tell you what you want to hear, be attuned to that and feel free to press the issue as and if needed. But at the same time, it is to no one's benefit to be advasarial. Don't assume the worst. Look for an advocate.
Where Is Their Basis of Operation?
Does the roofing contractor have an office, a warehouse, their own trucks and equipment? Though this can be misleading either way, it can provide you with an additional piece of the puzzle. If they have trucks, are they neat and clean, or at least suited for the job required? Do the trucks have company information on them? Not having such information on all their vehicles doesn't mean there are necessarily any problems; maybe the company just hasn't gotten around to it yet. Maybe some of the "company" vehicles are multi-use vehicles (used for personal use too) and therefore cannot have the company information on them. The point is that a company that has vehicles that are neat, clean, well-suited for the job at-hand, and with company information listed can indicate a healthy company that is not only credible and stable, but one concerned about quality.
Does the contractor have an office or do they work out of their house, or worse yet, their truck? I'm sure many successful business owners spend at least some of their time in a home office environment. But whether or not a contractor has a specific place of business may very well indicate something about their financial stability. Again, as the property owner looking for a credible contractor, you need to weigh such information in light of what you are asking to be done.
Cheap Is NOT the Same as Less Expensive
It is important for property owners to think very seriously about something: If you find a roofing contractor that has a half-page ad in the Yellow Pages, an expensive Web site, their own brick and mortar office and warehouse, and a fleet of company-branded vehicles, what do you think that does to their overhead costs? Now imagine that you get two bids from two different roofing contractors and one of those contractors is $1,000 cheaper, and the cheaper of the two bids happens to be from a roofing contractor that has no Web site, works out of his house, uses his own personal vehicle, etc. What contractor are you going to choose? Believe it or not, many owners would care more about the money than the contractor. I've seen it far too often. It's as if they see no difference between the contractors except for the price. Furthermore, they seem to ignore the reason(s) why one bid price would be more than another - all they care about is the bottom line price, often to their own detriment. In the case just outlined, spending an extra $1,000 to have the more reputable, more stable contractor do your work would be money well spent. Chances are it would actually save money in the long run because the chances that the job would be done right the first time would be higher. Though that may not always be true, it only underscores the reason why a property owner needs to be so careful in choosing a roofing contractor.
A case in point is seen in a reroofing bid we submitted to a Colorado energy company in the not-too-distant past. (For legal reasons we cannot provide the name of that energy company. But this scenario happens so often throughout this and many other industries, it's hardly a point that needs to be argued.) Our bid was one of two being considered. Unfortunately for us and the energy company, they chose the "cheaper" contractor, which wasn't us. Only about 1 year after the roof installation by the cheaper roofing contractor, the roof needed to be torn-off and replaced again. Why? The cheaper contractor was truly the cheaper contractor. And who do you think had to foot the bill for the "redo?" It wasn't the "cheaper" contractor.
As I always try to remind property owners, there is a huge difference between "cheaper" and "less expensive." There is also a significant difference between "less expensive" and VALUE. All of this reminds me of a quote form British Author, Essayist, and Critic, John Ruskin (1819 - 1900), who said:
"It is unwise to pay too much, but it is worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money - that is all. When you pay too little you sometimes lose everything because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot - it cannot be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better."
The Bottom Line
You are the one responsible for choosing the right contractor. Choose wisely by investigating thoroughly. Check out their Web site, their BBB rating, their references and testimonials, their office and equipment. Don't be afraid to call and talk with them, especially the owner. If the owner doesn't take the time to talk to you now - before the sale - how confident can you really be that he'll be there after you are under contract with his company? One item may not make or break your decision, but being too lax in too many areas is dangerous.
As the quote above highlights, don't let price be the sole indicator of quality. It's important for sure, but since you usually get what you pay for, don't be afraid to pay a little more to use the right roofing contractor. It will save you a lot of money in the long run.
I hope you benefited from this article. But believe it or not, this article only covered some of the important factors involved in choosing a roofing contractor. What about the roofing contractor's safety and employee standards? Do they have the proper insurances? Do they adhere to to local building codes and manufacturer's specifications? What is there level of knowledge and experience? Are they honest? The list could go on and on.
In order to assist you in working through this process, we've developed a series of related checklists, along with explanatory comments, that will greatly aide you in your quest to find your next roofing contractor.
As the quote above highlights, don't let price be the sole indicator of quality. It's an important part of the decision-making process for sure. But since you usually get what you pay for, don't be afraid to pay a little more to use the right roofing contractor. It will save you a lot of money in the long run.