Finding the right contractor for your patio project can be tricky. You need a company that is honest, has skilled workers, and provides excellent service from the first time you contact them until the project is complete. Asking friends and relatives for recommendations might or might not help you, but if you’re new to Florida, it’s unlikely that you know anyone well enough to trust their judgment on such an important purchase. Follow these industry-specific recommendations to find a patio contractor that will do the job correctly, efficiently, and to your satisfaction.
Do a Preliminary Google Search
While a Google search for patio contractors won’t tell you what you need to know, it’s a good place to start. You’ll find a wider variety of companies doing this work than you would by asking people you know. But, you need to dig deeper to get the complete story. Make a list of options, certainly. Just don’t grab one at random. The vetting process starts after you compile your list.
Find Reliable Reviews
Look for reviews that tell the story of each company you’re considering. They will likely have testimonials from satisfied customers on their website, so go there first. Next, look at review sites that require reviewers to give their names and contact information. These include:
- Google – reviews are associated with their email address.
- Angie’s List – has been stringent in only accepting reviews from people who have used the service.
- Better Business Bureau – requires contact information.
These reviews are typically reliable, but you can go a few steps farther to ensure you have found reviews that are from satisfied customers and not from the company itself or writers it has hired to produce them.
The first thing to notice is how many reviews a company has. It’s hard to fake a substantial number reviews, so the more the better. Assuming you’ve used a reliable review site, check out the person who gave each review. Look at their social media profiles to see if they are active online. Notice if they have a real life. You can also use this method to check out testimonials on the contractor’s site if the customer’s full name is given.
Pay attention to the kind of wording they use. Does their review sound like it was written by someone in the industry or by a person who has a more general common knowledge of the subject? Reviews written by real customers usually use generic words like “concrete” rather than brand names and specifications of the concrete, for example. Watch for reviews that have these common descriptions of specific services. Keep in mind that most customers don’t use industry lingo that consumers don’t know, but instead write the review as if they were telling a friend about the company in their natural language.
After looking at what real customers say about the contractor, you’re ready to narrow your list. As a rule, you need to choose at least three from your longer list. Request estimates from each of these. Look over the estimate carefully to make sure it covers all the services you require.
Know Who’s Doing the Work
General contractors often sub-contract out patio enclosures. Even some companies that bill themselves as patio contractors may hire people outside their company during busy times. Ask them directly if they use their own employees and if not, ask them about how they manage their sub-contractors. While sub-contractors generally get a bad rap, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think about it, by sub-contracting you are generally getting personnel specialized in their niche. If you contractor does, sub-contract be sure to make sure they have got tradesman on staff to handle the small details and things that might fall between trades. One inside way of figuring out if they do (have tradesman on staff), is to look at their trucks. Do they only have clean, shiny trucks with marketing graphics, or do they have some trucks loaded down with tools, and dents that show they’ve been doing ‘work’.
Check with the BBB
Anyone can be listed on the Better Business Bureau site. All they have to do is pay a fee to become an accredited member – and that usually leads to an ‘A Rating’. Yes, investigation has found instances of the BBB raising the rating for businesses that simply pay a fee. What you need to do is look for are their reviews. The BBB actually does a pretty good job of monitor reviews to ensure that they are from real customers and not fake! Also notice their positive reviews and whether they have satisfied anyone who has made a negative review.
Check Their Licensing
It’s crucial that you hire a contractor who is properly licensed. The lower price an unlicensed contractor can offer isn’t worth the risks you assume when you hire them. Their work tends to be shoddy and not up to code.
When asked, any contractor on your list is going to say they’re “licensed & insured” whether they are or not. So, you need to do some research to make sure they really are. In Florida, you can find out easily by checking the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Some companies, such as Gulf Coast Aluminum, show their business license details on their website as well.
See Their Insurance Certificate
This is a big one! As with licenses, it’s all too easy for a contractor to tell you they’re insured. Companies without insurance can cause you to face risks like being sued by a worker who is injured on your job. You need more than their word, though. You need to lay eyes on the actual insurance certificate. Make sure they have Workman’s Comp, Liability Insurance and Auto Insurance. If not, cross them off your list immediately. Again you need to look for their actual insurance certificate, which will look like this one below courtesy of Gulf Coast Aluminum.
Check Out Their Experience with Your Local Building Department
Find out whether the contractor has experience dealing with the building department that oversees patio work in your location. All these departments play by a slightly modified rule book, and they don’t all place the same emphasis on each rule. Of course since they are people too, the culture can change from place to place. If the contractor has worked with the one where you live, they will know how best to deal with that department to prevent delays.