With the economy in the dumper and new commercial construction virtually non-existent a good many subcontractors and construction laborers are likely to consider becoming residential renovation contractors.
Historically a large percentage of residential renovation contractors are unqualified, inexperienced, and underfunded even in a good market. Most subcontractors who have made their living in their niche of the construction industry are well qualified for their particular discipline but horribly unqualified to handle an entire project.
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Most are good at what they do but cannot delegate or handle other people effectively. Undoubtedly we will see roofers, plumbers, mechanical contractors, carpenters and even general laborers from the previously booming commercial and new residential construction market begin to tout themselves as general contractors.
In the arena of new construction (especially commercial) many states now have fairly comprehensive testing required before someone can become a general contractor. In the residential renovation market, this is often not the case. Instead, virtually anyone can go to the appropriate municipality's licensing office, pay a small fee and become a contractor.
Is it any wonder there are so many horror stories? Many of these "rogue contractors" have honest and good intentions. Rumor has it that there is a road somewhere paved with such things.
How do you, the innocent homeowner, know who is qualified and who is not? First of all, do not pursue any situation where you feel that you are being pressured into hiring someone. Remember that you are the buyer and they are the seller. In other terms, you are profit and they are overhead. Secondly, disregard all of the verbal pleasantries and polite sales pitches.
Obviously, it is important to be polite and professional but be stern in insisting on names, addresses, and phone numbers of past clients or customers for whom this party has done similar work. At the same time realize that nobody will ever knowingly give you a referral which will be negative.
If the referrals are general contractors (i.e., previous employers) and/or if the projects referenced are not similar to your intended project it is a good idea to find someone else without wasting more of your time. You are about to spend a good bit of money on your project and you don't want to finance someone's learning curve.