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Answering all those burning questions you didn’t know you had about home ownership.

A Treasure Hunt: The Elusive Reliable Contractor

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

The thing about owning a home – well, one of the many, many things – is that there always seems to be something to fix or update.

Maybe you are like The Mathematician and I; you get totally juiced to see if you can MacGuyver that problem away using duct tape and YouTube. Maybe, you don’t want to touch a home project with a 10-foot pool skimmer. Or perhaps, you fall somewhere in between.

No matter where you fall, the odds are good that at some point you will need to find a contractor or tradesperson to do some work on your home. I’ll share my personal tips and tricks for finding a great contractor. Moving forward, I’m using the word “contractor” to cover contractors, tradesperson and other home service providers.

Today, I’m just focusing on places to find strong candidates to work on your home. The selection process needs its own article down the road. This article is the “Where’s Waldo?” of the process.

Current State of Affairs

Friends, I am telling you, it is difficult to find a good contractor. You might make 4-5 calls and only receive one call back.

Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a home renovation frenzy and the contractors are in the thick of it. Business is booming from all those people trapped in their houses, quickly realizing that they would be happy to never cook in that outdated kitchen ever again.

Prepare yourself, it might take some work to find a reliable contractor.

A Case Study

To spice up this article, we’re going to use an ongoing case study (with permission) from some very satisfied clients of mine who just purchased a phenomenal house in Livonia, complete with squirrels who sit on a tiny picnic table. (I do not lie.). We’ll call them (the humans, not the squirrels) the Smith family because it doesn’t get more anonymous than that.

The Smith family wants to take their new home to the next level by installing hardwood floors. They asked if I could recommend a company to do the installation.

Referrals from Your Family and Friends

If you know someone who had similar work done, always ask them if they were satisfied with the experience, price and result. If yes, snatch that number up like it is pure gold.

I actually didn’t have a hardwood installer on any of my recommended contractor lists. I had a great refinisher, but no installer. This sort of blew my mind. So I racked my brain for anyone who has had hardwood floor installed in my circle. Nope, I came up empty.

So I called my real estate partner, Paul Barraco. (Who am I kidding? I texted him.) Paul gives me the name from his endless list of contacts. Unfortunately, he’s ALSO a refinisher. (I find this fact astounding because Paul must have around 1,500 contacts in that phone of his.)

Well, dang, strike out on a referral. Okay, moving on.

Google (Yup, You Knew It)

I open Google, punch in “hardwood floor installation Livonia MI” and study what pops up. I am looking for a person or company with at least 40 reviews (a totally arbitrary number) and preferably 4+ star average.

Poke around the websites and read the reviews, positive AND negative. For the negative reviews, I look for how the owner responded, if at all. Was he professional? If he wasn’t professional, was he making a valid point in a fit of rage at the world’s worst human?

Using this method, I narrow my search down to three good candidates. So far, so good. But we need to do more homework before the Smiths get any suggestions from me.


Most of the time, I find the NextDoor app to only be good for endless posts on lost pets, petty crime and neighborly squabbles about snow plows and dogs pooping in the wrong yard.

BUT, it is also a seriously underrated gem to find unfettered commentary on local service providers.

I search each of my three candidates to see what comes up. I review the company’s profile and any reviews it has, and I dig into the posts looking for anyone who mentions an experience with them, positive or negative.

I’m also looking to see if there are any other potential candidates that have glowing recommendations. If so, go back to Google and decide if they should be on my list.

All three of my candidates also check out on NextDoor, so these three are the ones I send to the Smiths. We may see them again in a future article as their project progresses.

Referrals from Other Contractors

The Mathematician found the hands-down best drywall guy as a referral from a handyman. After calling 4-5 drywallers (now a word), he either couldn’t get a call back or were told they were too booked to look at taking on a job.

Getting desperate, The Mathematician called a handyman we found on Nextdoor, who supposedly did drywall. When he told us the job was too big, The Mathematician asked if the handyman knew anyone who might be able to take the job.

The handyman connected us to his buddy, who did great work, on time and on budget. So, if you get a “no”, ask if they know anyone who could do the job. People generally only give out a referral if they think that person will make them look good, so this method is a great avenue to find people.

Wrap Up

I hope you found today’s treasure hunt instructions for a reliable contractor useful! I’ve run the gamut on finding contractors, and it is not easy to navigate.

In the last year, we got totally messed over by a plumber, found an awesome plumber (actually two!) to replace him and got connected to the best drywall installer.

Do you have a kickass contractor you want to recommend? I want their name! Send me an email or shoot me a message on Facebook.

As always, I’m happy to share any recommendations from my continually evolving list of “contractors who ROCK.” Don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be of any assistance.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Paul Barraco

    Well. Now I MUST update my ‘contractor’ list. How much is this gonna cost me to pry the information from you?

  2. Laura S.

    We had an awesome experience with this garage door repair company:

    We called them at 11:30am, and the garage door was fixed by 1:20pm that same day! They answered the phone, got someone out quickly, and the repairman was incredibly helpful. He explained how to lubricate the chain using the can of stuff he left with us, and he went over a couple of issues he noticed with the door after doing a full inspection. We had the door repaired a few years ago with another company who didn’t do any of that. So, we were impressed, needless to say. Will definitely use them again!

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