How to hire a good, honest contractor
In December 2008 a well-known local Indiana HVAC company tried to rip me off with regard to one of my rental property. At that time, renters in the unit let me know their heat was out. Surprised since the unit was only two years old, I asked them to go through a list of possible items to check (pilot light let, filter changed,etc) In a hurry to get their heat turned on I called the local HVAC company to check it out, hoping I was hiring a good contractor. Hours later the rep showed up and told me the problem.
Beware the HVAC repair person who wants to sell you a new furnace for they most likely speak with forked-tongue!
According to the rep, the control board was fried in that rental property's furnace. The basement at some point had flooded or so I was told. Unfortunately the furnace supply stores were closed for the evening but he promised to get the board for me at a cost of $500 (Which is nuts because I know I can get the board for $200+) The next day he returned and installed the unit but told me there were additional problems.
I was told the flood had corroded the wiring in the furnace and it would have to be rewired. Asking about cost, the rep hymned and hawed and sputtered out something about costing about as much as purchasing a new furnace! "Ding, Ding, Ding" with my bull crap antenna went off! To make sure I understood him, I had him repeat his statement back to me that I should consider purchasing a new furnace or pay upwards of $2000 for a rewire. He repeated it and at that time I asked him to leave the premises.
Later that evening I took at look at the unit and it indeed would not fire up. I could not figure it out so phoned a buddy with HVAC experience. He couldn't figure it out so called his relative who is a licensed HVAC professional. They both looked at the unit but saw no corrosion. What they did find was the 75 cent dead-man switch on the furnace hatch was bad. They replaced it and charged me $80.00. I then in turn complained to the HVAC company and forced them to reimburse my $80.00
The point is, the HVAC person saw an easy mark and tried to reel me in. He knew I was in a pinch and like many contractors and renters, he assumed since I was a landlord, I had cash pouring out of my ying yang! Sure, this sort of behavior can and does happen with primary residences but from my experience it happens way too often with rental property and contractors that's why I avoid the big contractor companies.
If there is a bright side to renting for me is it taught me how to properly fix things with confidence. For example, it is very easy to repair the blower motor in a HVAC unit. The part itself is relatively inexpensive versus what a HVAC rep will charge you. Often times when a blower stops working it’s not even the motor itself but the capacitor attached to it and those are very inexpensive. I also appreciate the host of contractors who do these things for 1/3 or half the amount of the big boys!
Once a blower went out in another rental property so I called another big HVAC company(they claim to be there in one hour or less) The rep told me the blower was indeed out and it would cost me $895.00 to replace! I paid him the service charge and told him to get out. Fortunately the tenant had HVACs kills and was able to install a blower that I purchased for $130.00
The key to finding honest, inexpensive contractors is to hire those that don't advertise or advertise very little.
Along the way I've met and used a number of plumbers, carpenters, and HVAC people who do repairs and installs at substantially low fees. If you can’t find these people through a network of other landlords I highly encourage you to find them through your yellow pages. Look for the small print ads, not the big name ones that think you have cash to burn. Another way to find people like this is to ask your renters if they know anyone. I've had good success with method in the past.
So the next time the water heater goes out in your rental and the plumber wants $700 to install a heater, look at either doing the work yourself or finding the small business plumber who is hard working and will make your task of hiring good contractors for your rental property fare easier.