Homeowners are always told to do certain things when choosing a contractor to perform a home improvement. “Get three estimates,” “ask about warranties,” and “ask for references” are among the most common pieces of advice a homeowner may hear.
But, what do references really prove? Let’s think about it.
A reference proves that a contractor can give you a person’s name, phone number and possibly address. A reference is nothing more than this unless you, the homeowner/consumer, checks it.
How many homeowners actually check references? Most may just want to know that they exist. They want to know that a contractor has performed similar work for someone else at some point in time. So, a name and number usually suffices.
Plus, checking a reference involves calling someone you don’t know. Not everyone may feel comfortable doing this. So in a sense, references mean as much as a homeowner is willing to investigate, which often is not much.
But, even if a consumer asks for several references and follows up with all of them, does this mean anything? Let’s say a contractor provides you with five references. Let’s say you call each one and they all tell you that they had a good experience. In other words, all references “check out.”
What does this prove? At best, it proves that the contractor has performed 5 quality jobs. If the jobs are relatively large in nature, the references may actually be of substance. Still, five jobs is a relatively small sampling. If a contractor has performed 500 jobs, his reference list represents 1% of his total clientele.
We are not saying that most contractors use fake references or that all contractors only have a small percentage of satisfied customers. We are only stating that references require a little work from the consumer if they are to be of any value at all, and, even then, they probably only represent a small sample.
Plus, it’s not like a contractor would ever give you a reference that would talk badly about the contractor, right? This is also another reason why homeowners may not check references. They think to themselves, “Of course these references will check out- why else would the contractor give them to me?”
The fact of the matter is that most homeowners simply ask for references because they are told to do so. What they get out of them, however, is often either nothing or very little.
A homeowner may feel a sense of accomplishment for doing his due diligence, but in terms of substance, references are mostly hollow. You may be better served by simply going with your gut.
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