Working with Contractors: Finding the Good Ones and Keeping Them

One of my favorite parts of my job as a landlord has become working with my contractors.  Seriously.  Without them my properties wouldn’t function as well as they do and I would have a lot less fun.  When certain things go wrong with my units, I actually get a little excited because it means I can call up my favorite contractors.  And, to be honest, it was not that hard to develop a list of top-notch, reliable contractors who I also like as people.  It just took some time and some trial and error (be sure to read my first post to laugh at my share of errors!).

I started as a landlord soon after I relocated to a new city so I did not have the benefit of an established professional network.  Therefore, I started using what I call the “Rule of Three” in earnest.  When in doubt, call and meet with three contractors.  And when meeting them, trust your instincts.  If after talking with three contractors, no one stands out as the obvious choice, keep calling.  Do not settle for what is in front of you.  If you are not satisfied with a contractor in an initial meeting, just imagine how things will be when power tools, deadlines, and money come into play.  It is always worth the time to keep looking if you have any hesitation about working with a particular individual.

To find three contractors to call first ask everyone you know who they have used, then check the classified ads in small, local newspapers, and finally open the Yellow Pages.  I find the hard copy of the Yellow Pages better to use for this purpose than online searches because it allows me to compare the size of ads and check addresses.  I usually shoot for the mid-sized ads and prefer to use contractors as close to the project as possible.  The full-page ad companies are often too impersonal and the small print people may not have enough experience.  Proximity to the job means they can easily get to the property and they most likely are familiar with the material suppliers and hardware stores nearby.

When I am interviewing contractors and through the first time I work with them, I have the following expectations from them:

• High quality work

• Reliability

• Reasonable prices

• Good communication

• Respectful behavior towards my tenants

• Feedback/recommendations for ongoing maintenance or preventing problems in the future

It is important to remember that the contractor also has a choice about whether they want to work with you or not.  Believe me, once you find a good one, you should treat them well!  Once a contractor has met the above expectations, I am prepared to offer them the following things:

• They get paid when the work is completed.  Not a week later (unless that is our arrangement). If I have to go out of my way to hand them a check, I will.

• I will pay them more than they are asking if their amount seems unreasonably low (my plumber refuses to charge me for the hour drive he has to do from his home to my property).

• The job site will be ready for them and any materials I am supplying are on hand.

• I do not keep them waiting.

• I am available while they are working to answer questions and get supplies.

• Clear communication and expectations.

• I let them do their work without interruptions and try to avoid having multiple people working on the same unit at the same time when possible.  Most contractors like to work by themselves (that’s why they became independent contractors).

Using these simple guidelines, I have been able to develop a team of excellent contractors who have had a dramatic positive impact on my business.  At this point, the only reason I ever look beyond my core list is when there are significant scheduling conflicts that would have a negative impact on my tenants.


About Learn to Be a Landlord
I currently am a real estate investor in Spokane, WA. I own and manage 79 rental units. My background is not in business, but in social services and community organizing. I also had way too much liberal arts education. Somehow that all fits together to make me a landlord!

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