One of the most commonly asked questions that I’ve encountered in my real estate career is how to work with contractors and how to find a good one. Over the years, I’ve interviewed and worked with 20+ contractors for my various renovation projects before filtering down to a few trustworthy and reliable ones. I have developed my own list and dos and don’ts. In this guide, I will share with you some tips for working with contractors in this Boston market and the general expectations.

First, make sure you have the right mindset about working with contractors in Boston because this will affect how you work with the contractors. In Boston, there is currently a severe shortage of contractors relative to the demand for them. In fact, historically construction labor has been in demand for a long time, even during the last downturn. For the average home owners and small property investors, it is sometimes challenging to compete with investors with larger scale commercial projects. It is important to build relationships with contractors, or have a realtor with strong connections to contractors in their network.

Keep in mind that during peak times, there may be a longer wait time, so make sure to work well with contractors and treat them well. When contractors can pick and choose who to work with, you don’t want to be that person that they feel least excited about and be pushed down to the bottom of their priority list. While being a skilled and tactful employer is important, you also want to know when to push. There are many dishonest contractors out there who are skilled liars, so beware. There are horror stories where contractors just take the deposit without finishing the project! Sometimes it’s case by case, depending on the personality, business structure and working style of the contractors.

When working with contractors, make sure you understand their working styles. Some contractors work by signing contracts and collecting a certain percentage of deposits. If the contractor comes from a friend’s referral network who also worked with this contractor before, they may verbally agree on the scope of work and price and collect the payment after completing the project. Make sure you communicate the expectations early on and have written record of the agreements if possible. Communication is key. It is essential to maintain good communication with contractors throughout the process. For larger projects, there may be lots of surprises later as the contractor discovers more things to fix or essential upgrades. There are even more surprises if you are doing a larger scale gut rehab project.

How do you make sure not to get ripped off by contractors? If you haven’t had a history or relationship with a particular contractor, talk to several contractors about the same project to compare the pricing and what they offer. Look for verbal cues during the interview to get a sense of their attitude towards this project. Some contractors do larger projects primarily and don’t take smaller projects as seriously. If your project is small, you are better off with contractors who fall outside this category. Some contractors will give you a high quote as a polite way of turning down the job. It is important to understand what the market is offering and pick the right contractors for the job. If you do multiple jobs with a contractor, you may get better quotes for smaller individual jobs as well or free service on the smaller ones when you give them a bigger job.

In our exclusive section, we also offer more tips on what kind of contractors are right for particular categories. Check out our section to learn more so you can avoid the pitfalls of the market and thrive!