How to Choose a Roofing Contractor

How to Choose a Roofing Contractor
January 29, 2024

One of the most common questions we get is: “do you know a good [contractor type]”.  Painters, general contractors, stucco guys, plumbers, you name it.  The purpose of this article is to help guide you on how to find quality help.

For most of us, our home is the most valuable material object we own.  Repairing and maintaining it are of paramount importance to protect property.  Key partners in this are contractors you hire to get things done.  Finding a good contractor involves reviewing several basic things.

CHECK THE LICENSE.  In California, contractors are supposed to show their license number on contracts, website, and major publications.  If they do not (some are unaware of the regulation), ask for their license number.  Handyman work does not require a contractor’s license, but they can only do projects up to $500 including materials.  The way to check a contractor’s license is use this State of California link:  You can also use personnel names, business names, but if a contractor is licensed, they should not have any problem giving you the license number, and this license should result in you seeing data that matches what they say their name is and who they are.

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DO THEY HAVE WORKMAN’S COMP INSURANCE.  This is required in California. You don’t want to be on the hook for someone’s medical bills because you hired someone without insurance.  If you check their license using the above link, scrolling down will eventually get you to where it states what their workman’s comp insurance status is.  Some listings note they do not maintain insurance as they do not have employees.  Ask the contractor, “Are you coming alone to do this work,” and if they say no, realize the contradiction.

DO THEY HAVE LIABILITY INSURANCE.  This is not required in most situations in California, but ask yourself if you are comfortable working with a contractor who does not have it.  Many contractors do not, because it is expensive.  You have to come up with 40 to 50 thousand dollars just so you can have one word at the bottom of your contracts: “Insured”.  We do it.  Many contractors do it.  Many do not.  You can also ask them to have you listed as additional insured on the project. I won’t get into the legalese of this but essentially it’s hard to argue in court against a claim, if the contractor gave you this certificate ahead of time. Note well: a misconception some accountants have is that “you must have that certificate renewed every year”; that is false.  You want a certificate that gives a policy period that covers the dates work is being done.  No contractor is obliged to keep naming you as insured past that point, and there is no purpose to it.

HOW LONG IN BUSINESS?  Everyone has to start some time, but generally speaking, the longer in business, the longer they have proven that they accomplish the work in question, in a reasonable manner.

DO THEY GIVE YOU A DETAILED SCOPE OF WORK.  Minimally, if they do not, can they explain to you what they plan to you, without hemming and hawing and beating around the bush.  It should not be difficult for them to explain the project to you in relatively simple terms.

DO THEY HAVE TIME FOR YOU.  When you deal with them, do you get the feeling you are taking up their time, or do you feel like they are interested in your project?  Don’t try to convince a reluctant contractor to work for you, because you will probably get “reluctant work.”  While it is true that there can be projects that are unattractive to contractors, for the most part, it’s not too much to expect that they treat you like they want to help you.  In general, shy away from any who seem reluctant to deal with you.

CHECK REFERRALS:  A good contractor should be able to get you a list of happy clients.  The contractor being happy to furnish this alone is a good sign, but if you are truly putting in the legwork, call at least one.

ASK IF THEY SUBCONTRACT.  You may have vetted this contractor and determined that you like what you see so far, but if they subcontract out the work, then you are back to square one, dealing with an unknown.  Some contractors subcontract because this enables them to push liability down the line to the subcontractor.  Do you want to be the poor person stuck in the middle of that if a problem crops up?  Note that this is very common with the solar panel industry, but some of these solar brokers do accomplish a lot of good installations and do stand by the installations.  They aren’t automatically bad people just because they are brokers, but the point is do know what you are getting into ahead of time.  Same with appliance repair websites, often they are just brokers, but some do a decent job of getting consumers help, again they aren’t all bad just because they are brokers.

REVIEW SOCIAL MEDIA: This is trickier, as social media reviews abound that are misleading one way or another.  It could be said that sorting through reviews to get a sense of the truth is a skill and I would agree.  Rave reviews can come across as shills.  Extremely negative reviews filled with vitriol beg the question if the writer is being objective about their experience.  We have found that the truth is usually somewhere in the more matter-of-fact reviews that read as being calm, informative and measured in tone.  Also every four-star or better contractor who has been around a while is going to have a review that says the contractor is the devil incarnate.  We advise that you look at how the reviews are overall.

This leads into a related point and parting words: there is no such thing as a perfect contractor.  Sometimes a good one can be detected simply by how they deal with difficulties that crop up mid job.  I’ll leave you with that point as more a question of “should I hire that contractor again.”  If they were responsive, earnest and fair about resolving difficulties, you might consider retaining them as a contractor.  Contractors aren’t magicians and can’t always tell every difficulty that could come up during a project.  It’s how they work with you to resolve them that tells you if they are accountable and responsible, or not.