When you shop around to find the best deal you can get on a new car it makes a lot of sense. We know that a brand new car is going to be the same no matter what dealer you buy it from. Shopping around to find the cheapest roofing contractor to do your roofing job is a totally different story. In this case you are more likely to get what you pay for.
But of course the solution is not to run around and find the most expensive contractors – an equally poor solution. In dozens upon dozens of cases, I have seen roofers bid (in total) what the actual costs were for a job (materials and labor, meaning they would make little to no money), and I’ve seen roofers bid 10 times the fair price for a job. Unfortunately, this is now a routine occurrence and getting a fair price from a good contractor is tantamount to walking a minefield.
I have seen consumers reason “If a contractor made a mistake and badly underbid my job, this is good for me” but it very rarely is. If he messed up and gave you a price he can’t possibly live up to, things invariably go badly. I’ve been called in to bid countless jobs where contractors had simply walked off the job because it was cheaper for him to just walk away. And in most cases he walked away having been paid for more work than was done, so, the consumer lost out but invariably, the jobs were a mess and much of it had to be redone. And it’s more than just finding the 3 highest rated contractors and choosing the cheapest of the lot. Although that is certainly a good place to start.
First of all, your goal as a consumer should be to know – what is a fair price. You will at least be most likely to find that out if you get prices from 3-4 of the highest rated and most popular roofers in your area. Just make sure they’re all bidding the same thing.
There are a few other things that you should be aware of as a consumer and look for. One of the first things is, whether or not the person you’re dealing with is a trained roofer (and has therefore properly bid the details of your job since I can assure you, it’s the details that usually leak, not the middle of the roof). You might be surprised to know that a lot of the people running around giving roofing estimates have little or no background in roofing.
Since you are not an expert roofer yourself there are admittedly not very many ways you can quiz your roofer to ascertain his level of knowledge however in the normal course of conversations about various different materials and what not, if you pay close attention you can sometimes glean how much experience a roofer has. He should be able to easily answer your questions and there should be no inconsistencies in the data.
Also, if your roofing estimator hands you a simple piece of paper with a limited scope of work (especially handwritten), this is not a good sign. And unfortunately this is how many roofing estimators operate but in the year 2015 this is simply no longer acceptable. You may not want to see (or have to read) a 12 page contract but you do need one because roofing jobs can be expensive and can get out of hand and you want to know that your contract covers everything that can (and often does) happen.
In short, you want everything laid out and agreed upon and that’s not going to happen with a handwritten, one page contract. Doing business “old school” is quaint, but unwise. Gone are the days of handshake deals and promises to do good work. If your roofing contractor gives you a very simple contract then he’s leaving a lot of room for loopholes and that is not good for you as a consumer, just ask any lawyer.
It goes without saying you should first do the basics: check their license for complaints with the CSLB, see that they have a bond (info located on CSLB), ensure they have workers comp (for ALL the roofers that will be on your job), have liability insurance and are highly rated, have a professional website and have a legitimate place of business (and not a house, an actual place of business).
Once you’ve done all your homework it’s down to deciding who you liked best and this is a good time to go with your gut. If you’ve “done the math” and taken all the basics out of the decision, it should be an easy decision. Lastly, I recommend signing the papers at the place of business as the final seal on the deal. A real roofing company should have a real place of business and it’s indicative of someone who plans to be around for a while and if you have problems with your roof, you know where to find them!