You’ve heard the horror stories: The one where the contractor repeatedly emphasized mold and health issues to up-sell a homeowner into a bigger job; or, how about the one where the contractor wasn’t insured when one of his workers was injured? Perhaps my favorite is the story where the contractor accepted a large deposit required for “materials,” only to never be heard from again. (This actually happened to Susanne Shaw, our Metro Charlotte Research Director.)

Believe it or not, stories like these are far more common than most homeowners realize. That’s why our mission at HomeServiceReports.org is to connect homeowners to the finest home improvement companies in the market. How do we do it, you ask? Through our 5-step, proprietary research process, that’s how.

Here are the steps that HomeServiceReports.org takes to root out the bad guys and help make sure that you can find a quality home improvement contractor:

Step 1: Universe Study

The first step in finding the best craftsmen in any trade is identifying a comprehensive list of contractors performing a particular service.

Step 2: Prequalification

Next, we narrow the list of “suspects” to a shorter list of “prospects” to consider for our “Homeowner Approved” program. Companies will only proceed through the process if they are A-rated by the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, or some other reputable rating agency, if they come highly recommended by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, or are a company that has already been “Homeowner Approved.”

Step 3: The Interview

Upon prequalification, we meet with an owner or officer of the company, to explain our program and learn more about the business under review. Our goal here is to confirm our preliminary research and determine whether the company really measures up to our expectations.

Step 4: “Homeowner Approved”

If the interview yields a positive outcome, we ask for the contact information of the last 100 customers served by the company being evaluated. Our researchers then randomly select at least 10 homeowners from the list and talk with them directly about their experience with the company. Through our survey we grade the company on 10 points of customer service, everything from phone skills to workmanship to punch list resolution. To be designated “Homeowner Approved,” a company must come highly recommended and receive an “A” score from their customers.

Step 5: Recertification

Each year we repeat Step 4 for each of our participating companies, to reconfirm high standards of customer satisfaction. Nonperforming companies are removed from the program.

Of course selecting a company from our Annual Report or our website, HomeServiceReports.org, isn’t the end solution to your home improvement needs. It’s equally important for you to take a few steps, on your own, to help ensure a successful home project. First off, you’ll want to interview a few businesses and get two or three “apples-to-apples” quotes, to give you a better understanding of the requirements and anticipated costs of your project.

Talking with experts will help educate you and make sure you cover your bases, no doubt. Once you’ve gotten multiple quotes, you’ll want to select a contractor based on your needs and your budget. A careful balance is extremely important here. Price should never be the only consideration because a lower quote does not necessarily mean a cheaper price and, more importantly, because the lowest price almost never equals the best solution in the end! And, while you’re at it, don’t forget the importance of “chemistry” when making your final selection. All things being equal, it’s better to work with someone you like; not only does it make the experience more enjoyable, but it also makes it easier to work through problems should they occur over the course of your home improvement project.

Finally, once you’ve chosen your contractor, be sure to get a written agreement, so that both of you are on the same page with the requirements of the job. A detailed contract will also give you legal recourse, should things go sideways down the road.

At the end of the day, using one of the home contractors featured in our Annual Report or on our website, HomeServiceReports.org, is a great place to start your next home project. Combined with a little effort on your part, taking this step will help to ensure that your home improvement project doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

Article contributed by James Moon, President of HomeServiceReports.org