The Right Guy
By: Sue Marquette Poremba
When hiring a contractor to install decorative concrete, the hope is to find a professional who will do good work in a timely manner at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, thats not always how it ends up. Too often, the contractor wont deliver on promises or the finished product is inferior.
Choosing the right concrete contractor can " and probably should be " an indepth, lengthy process. After all, this person will have access to your property for an extended period of time and needs to be reputable on a number of levels.
To find the right contractor, the customer needs a clear idea of the end result so that vision can be passed along during the vetting and planning stage. John Hoar of Modrock Concrete Design in Seattle encourages potential clients to do their homework before ever meeting with the contractor.
Get as many ideas as you can before approaching the contractor, he says. That way you have a little better idea of what youre asking for and whats out there.
When Hoar meets with someone who wants decorative concrete but doesnt really know what it is, he encourages the clients to go look at their options. With the different stamps and colors, there are so many variations that it is easy to get lost in the options. There are a lot of good websites to choose from on the Internet; Hoar especially recommends concretenetwork.com because contractors also use the site to get new ideas and learn new techniques.
Once the list of potential contractors is created, checking references and asking to see examples of past jobs are the first steps to take in the vetting process. Tim Blankenship, owner of Blankenship Concrete Specialties in Dallas, Ga., strongly suggests getting references not just for the concrete company itself, but also for the type of concrete work you want done.
If you want a polished floor but all the references are for stained concrete, it doesnt help the customer make a decision, he says. Being a nice guy on another type of job doesnt make him the right guy for your job. Its also good to see what types of certifications the contractor has. Best are certifications through the manufacturers of products and installation systems the contractor uses, but Blankenship says contractors should have at least gone through some kind of training program in the area for which you are hiring. It doesnt make sense, he says, to hire someone only certified in stamping and staining when you are installing concrete counters.
The next step should be a review of a contractors license to work in the area (if required) and proof of insurance.
As the economy continues to affect the construction business, contractors are traveling greater distances to find work, and that includes crossing state lines and going into unfamiliar territory. Add into that an increase in laid-off workers who have gone into business for themselves and never had to deal with the paperwork side of things before.
Making sure a contractor has a business license and insurance is protecting the property owner from damage, Blankenship said. If the concrete contractor causes any undue damage and doesnt have insurance, the property owner will be liable. Some states have penalties for contractors who arent registered. And if the contractor gets hit with penalties, who picks up the cost and will the contractor be able to finish the job?
Joe Blanner, a partner in the St. Louis-area law firm Behr, McCarter and Potter, agrees with Blankenship in the importance of getting as much legal background on the contractor as possible. Blanner specializes in lawsuits involving botched construction projects, and he says a lot of heartache and money can be saved if the customers research the contractor upfront.
Along with checking the contractor with the Better Business Bureau, Blanner suggests utilizing state records. Most states have databases of company listings available for public review. Any contractor with multiple corporations to his name should immediately throw up a red flag. Its easy to form new corporations and when someone is setting up multiple corporations, hes usually trying to hide something.
Finally, dont ever feel you have to hire the first contractor you speak with. You can do all the background checking, but in the end, Hoar said, it will come down to having a good (or bad) gut feeling about this person you are looking to hire.
Anyone can put down a sidewalk, but decorative concrete is art, its a thing of beauty. Thats why it is so important to hire the right person for your job.
Sue Marquette Poremba is a freelance writer based in Central Pennsylvania. She writes regularly about decorative concrete, construction, engineering and technology.