When you notice cracks in your foundation, or signs of settling, your first reaction is to worry. A number of questions go through your mind. What’s causing the damage? How much will it cost to fix it? Where are you going to find someone reliable to do the repairs? These are all valid concerns, and you deserve to get the answers you need.
Acculevel is a family-owned and operated company that specializes in foundation repairs and waterproofing. Since our start in 1996, we’ve provided services for more than 35,000 homeowners throughout our service area. Our goal is to provide whole-home solutions to our customers, helping them preserve and protect their homes for years to come.
We believe everyone deserves a safe and healthy home, and that you should be treated fairly and honestly. To that end, we’re going to explain the 7 essential steps you should take when you’re looking for the right contractor to repair your home.
Step 1: Talk to People You Know
Word of mouth is one of the best ways to learn about trustworthy repair companies. Friends and neighbors who live in your area are a great resource. While soil properties can vary widely, it’s likely that people in your neighborhood have experienced some of the same issues you have.
Ask them if they’ve had similar problems, and who they’ve worked with. Do they recommend them? Was it a positive experience? Take notes, and then move to Step Two.
If you’re new to the area, or no one has needed the same kind of repairs, you’ll have to expand your search a bit. Contact your HOA or the realtor who sold you the home; chances are, one (or both!) will have a list of local contractors that they have used or worked with themselves.
Of course, you can always search for repair companies on-line. The only problem you may have in this instance is that search engines are businesses. Companies pay to advertise their services, and these ads will show up at the top of your searches. There’s nothing wrong with advertising (everyone does it, including Acculevel), but it can skew your search results somewhat. Which is why Step Two is important…
Step 2: Check Reviews Online
Online reviews can be a good source of information, but like online searches, you need to take them with the proverbial grain of salt. Some companies will pay for reviews, or have their employees or relatives write false ones to boost their ratings.
Something else you need to be mindful of: some websites charge a fee to display good customer reviews. Their business model is what some call “pay to play,” meaning if a particular contractor isn’t one of their premium customers, they limit how many (or which) reviews they show to website visitors.
This is why it’s important to check a company’s reputation on more than one platform. Some sites like Google Business, Home Advisor, and Angi’s List are more reliable than others. They try to match or verify that the review is from a genuine homeowner who has worked with the company they’re reviewing.
Full disclosure: Acculevel has experience working with the three platforms listed above. They don’t charge us for reviews, but we know they have a process for validating reviews from real customers. These companies send unique links asking for feedback or require you to log-in before reviewing.
Step 3: Verify Their Credentials
Once you have a short list of contractors, verify that they are accredited by the Better Business Bureau. Not only do they have reviews from customers, but you can also view any possible disputes the BBB has helped customers resolve. This will give you an opportunity to see how (and if) the contractor responds to these complaints.
We realize that steps 1-3 are all built around you doing research. You may think this is overkill, and maybe it is. But we have good reason to be concerned. While the vast majority of repair companies you’re going to find are solid and respectable businesses, there are a few con artists who will exploit a person’s trusting nature.
I’ve met people who are deeply suspicious of ALL contractors because they’ve been cheated in the past. You may know someone like this as well- it’s a sadly familiar complaint:
The homeowner met with a seemingly legitimate contractor (SLC). The SLC provided an estimate, the homeowner signed a contract, and they planned a start date. The SLC gave the homeowner a discount if he paid up front in cash, so the SLC could buy the required materials. On the start date, the SLC is a no-show, his phone is out of service, and our homeowner’s money is gone.
We don’t want this to happen to you.
Step 4: Customer Service is Key
When you call or email to schedule an in-home appointment with a company, take a few notes. Not like you’re studying for an exam; just pay attention to how you’re spoken to, and how you’re treated.
When the company representative shows up, are they on-time? If they’re late, did they call or text to check with you? Your time is valuable, and you should be treated accordingly.
After they arrive and introduce themselves, do they immediately start a sales pitch? They shouldn’t be trying to sell you anything, before they’ve reviewed the issue(s) you’ve noticed. Do they ask you reasonable background questions, like how long you lived in the home, when you noticed a problem, if you have time constraints on when repairs can be done?
This is your home, your shelter, and your greatest investment. They should want your input. In fact, what you’ve seen/heard/smelled is essential. If there was water in your basement but it’s since dried up, they’ll need to know where the puddle formed, if it’s happened before, etc.
This photo was taken by an Acculevel project advisor during an in-home appointment. Water is seeping in through the cove joint (where the wall & floor connect).
Step 5: The Home Inspection Should be Thorough
If your problem is in the crawl space of your home, you probably won’t be able to join the company representative while they perform all of the inspection. But you should be able to observe them as they check out the rest of the house.
A few examples: if your floor is sagging, they should want to see the problem from the main floor and from the crawl space below. If your foundation is settling, they should want to look for cracks inside and outside the home.
How thorough is the home inspection? This can tell you a lot about the quality of the assessment and the expertise of the representative. They should be taking notes and measurements where appropriate. They should take pictures to document the problem for you, especially if you cannot go into the area in question. Do they have any tools or equipment with them? Acculevel project advisors use things like laser level, tape measures, and/or soil probes to determine the needed materials and repair methods. .
Again, you want to be wary of anyone who only casually reviews the area(s) of concern before recommending major repairs.
In the video below, Sales Director Nolan Beery demonstrates how a laser level is used to assess a foundation:
Step 6: How Does The Business Process Work?
When you sit down to discuss the results of the inspection, does the company representative clearly explain what they’ve found? Do they review options with you, and provide specific costs and details?
They should be able to answer your questions about products, services, warranties, maintenance requirements, etc. You should also be told if there are items you’ll need to move before the repairs can be done, if there are plants or landscaping that will need to be temporarily removed, if you want to replant them.
Most companies (Acculevel included) require a deposit of 25-50%. This deposit goes towards the total cost of repairs, and is an indication that you want the repairs to be scheduled. You should be able to pay by check or credit card. There may be financing options available, if you want to avoid paying out of pocket for the deposit.
For all payment options, a clear paper trail should be established. Cash payments should not be requested or required, and you should not be expected to pay the balance of the bill until the work is completed.
It is not our intention to make you nervous or hesitant about hiring a repair company. We only want you to be treated honestly and with respect. Please feel free to use our free guide, Questions to Ask a Contractor. As you’d expect, it’s a list of questions, but the article includes information about what makes a good answer versus one that is a potential concern.
Step 7: Listen to Your Gut.
It may not be scientific or strictly rational, but it’s excellent advice. If the company representative promises too much, pushes too hard, or assures you everything will be exactly like it was before? You have a right to be cautious. All home repairs come with some possible risks or concerns; the rep should be clear and upfront about these with you.
For example: if you have a basement wall that needs to be straightened and stabilized, you will need excavation done outside the wall. Acculevel has expertly trained, hard-working crews, but even they can’t dig a major hole in your yard and then cover it flawlessly. This isn’t realistic, and no one trustworthy makes unreasonable promises.
Are You Ready to Schedule an In-Home Assessment?
If you live within our service area, please call Acculevel at 866-669-3349. You can also complete our on-line form, if you’d prefer to communicate electronically. We will schedule an appointment for you with one of our friendly and experienced project advisors. They will evaluate your home, address your concerns, and help you develop a whole-home solution that protects your family and your home into the future.
If you don’t live in our section of the Midwest, or if you have more questions about foundation repairs, please check out our homeowners’ guide to foundation repair. This is a free resource available to any homeowner, and it thoroughly addresses all of the most commonly asked homeowner questions.