References, references, references…everyone tells you to ask for them from any home service contractor you are considering hiring. They are a way to check up on the contractor to make sure you want to do business with them, right?

This is true…sort of.

The classic way of receiving and using references is to ask the contractor to provide you with the contact numbers of his references. You then call these references and find out that the contractor was perfect and everyone on the reference list would all “highly recommend” hiring this company.

The problem with this method is the fact that you are receiving references from the very source that you are trying to evaluate. The contractor is not going to hand you a list of customers that have had problems with his service. They are handing you the most satisfied customers, so that you will hire them.

So what do you do to obtain and evaluate credible references?:

o Ask your neighbors and friends to see if they have had good or bad experiences with local contractors. Simply knowing that another person has had a good experience with a contractor prior to calling them lessens your chance of hiring a problem. By doing this you are using a reference to locate a contractor (versus using a reference supplied by a contractor you have already contacted).

o If you call a reference that the contractor has provided, ask the customer how long ago the contractor performed the work. You want recent references. If the contractor is providing references from 8 years ago it makes you wonder if they haven’t had another satisfied customer in the last 8 years!

o Try asking the contractor for customer contact information for the last 3-4 jobs they performed. This way you are asking for customers that may not necessarily be on the contractor’s “reference list”. (Note: Some companies may not provide this information because of customer privacy issues). Again, ask the customer about the dates of work. If the supplied customers are from years ago it is a good bet that there were other customers after them that he doesn’t want you to call.

o When talking to a customer reference ask them what things they feel the contractor could have improved on. This discussion may open the door to some issues that the customer may have had with the contractor.

Following the above suggestions can help you to really learn about past customers’ experiences with a contractor.
More information on references and other hints to hiring the perfect pro cn be found at: Raleigh-Durham contractor info..