How To Choose the Best Swimming Pool Contractor
Are you financing a swimming pool? Make sure you choose the right pool builders for your project!
From residential backyards to Olympic-sized recreational centers, pools are a major investment that require significant skill to build and complete properly. When you have a pool installed, you want to make sure you are working with pool builders that are competent, trustworthy, and highly recommended. Most of all, you want someone who will finish the job without going out of business in the meantime!
Here are 10 warning signs that you may be looking at an unskilled or insolvent pool builder.
Things To Look Out For:
1) Huge Down Payment
For most projects, a reputable pool company will not ask for a down payment of over 10% before starting work. Some reputable companies may require up to 20%, but around 10% is the standard. If they ask for a much higher up-front payment, this could be a sign of poor cash flow and a struggling business. High down payments could indicate that the contractor does not already have enough cash on hand to pay employees, subcontractors and materials.
2) Big Up-Front Draws
The amount of money you pay pool builders during construction should be appropriate to the project’s timeline. If you have paid half of the cost of the pool, expect the pool to be halfway done. For example, consider a pool builder who asks for a 40% payment when they dig and another 40% when they lay concrete. This would require you to pay 80% of the cost when they have done much less than 80% of the work. If this business folds before completion, you lose a significant amount of money.
3) Tiny Final Draw
Too little payment at the project’s completion is another bad sign. Pool contractors should have a financial incentive to finish the project. A final payment of 2-5% means that if you disagree with them or some other setback, they don’t lose out much if they never finish the job. Look for builders who accept a final draw of at least 10%. Some of Viking Capital’s lenders even require a hold-back of up to 25-30%, which protects property owners.
4) Quick Contract Signing
Be cautious if the pool builder wants you to sign the contract at your first meeting. This does not always indicate that the builder is a risky choice, so you may not want to make it a deal-breaker. However, it is something to look out for; you don’t want to work with a builder who makes you feel too pressured.
5) Unreliable and Discourteous Behavior
Everyone runs late or has personal emergencies sometimes. However, it’s poor business if a contractor never seems to be on time to an appointment or constantly misses a sales call, without the courtesy of a heads-up. Building a pool takes weeks or even months, so choose a reliable company that you can work with for that long. This is a significant investment for you, so you want to make sure you are working with someone you like.
6) New on the Scene
Every company has to start somewhere, so being a new pool builder is not a bad sign by itself. However, many pool companies fail within the first few years of business. To reduce your financial risk, consider choosing a company that has been around for at least 5 years, if possible. If being new is the only drawback, however, don’t dismiss them immediately. Just remember, there is a difference between being in business for 10 years and being IN THE BUSINESS for 10 years. Many contractors that go under resurface under a new name and claim to have been in the pool business longer than the current company has existed. If they went out of business once, it’s very possible that it will happen a second time. Being a great pool builder and a great business owner don’t always go hand in hand.
7) Unresolved Complaints
When considering a pool company, make sure to check any online reviews and local BBB (Better Business Bureau) rating, if applicable. Seeing one or two negative reviews may be fine. However, check any responses to customer complaints and look out for any unresolved problems or disputes. If you see lots of negative reviews, or a lack of resolution to pool owners’ issues, you may want to look for another swimming pool contractor. Keep in mind that a few complaints from previous projects for a company that builds 200 pools each year is much different than the same number of critical reviews for someone who builds 20 pools per year.
8) Pool Builders That Can Start Right Away
It sounds convenient to have a pool contractor who can start a project immediately, but don’t get too excited just yet. The best builders not only have a list of satisfied clients but also a schedule full of current clients. The ability to start working for you right away indicates a lack of ongoing projects. Or, they may be overburdening their schedule because they are desperate for money. Both of these should warn you to proceed with caution. In many cases, it simply means the builder has the staff to deal with the seasonality of his business and manages projects properly. The worst combination is an unusually low price along with the ability to start right away.
9) Lack of References
The pool contractor should be able to give you a list of previous customers who have agreed to be contacted for a recommendation. Some pool companies may not wish to provide past client names if the clients are major celebrities, but this is a relatively rare occurrence. A lack of references could indicate a relatively new business, but if they cannot give you the name of any happy customers, and can’t explain why, consider that a red flag.
Note that this also applies to any subcontractors the potential pool builder may work with. You want to be sure that every company involved in building your pool is reliable, solvent, and qualified. Your choice of pool company should provide you with sufficient information about their network of subcontractors. By the same token, don’t rely too heavily on references. Even a builder who has mad clients all over town, he will still have a bunch of great reviews, so this should be a smaller part of your decision-making process, especially today with online reviews so easy to find.
10) Poor Communication
When choosing a pool installer, it’s normal to ask a lot of questions. Take this opportunity to evaluate the contractor on not just the answers to your questions, but how he or she answers. If the pool builder cannot answer your questions satisfactorily and does not strive to relieve your concerns, consider finding a different builder. Professional pool builders will have heard all the questions before and will be able to answer them all with little effort and put you at ease with their knowledgeability.
Questions To Ask a Pool Builder
Now that we have covered all the bad signs of a less than desirable pool builder, let’s go through the questions to ensure you weed out any potential headache contractors.
1) How long has your business been operating? And has it always been under the same name and ownership?
Longevity is a good sign, if they have been operating for a number of years then they most likely do good work and have a history of happy customers.
If they have changed names be sure to understand why and ask for the previous business names so you can look online for old reviews or news items. Sometimes business names are changed for good reasons, but other times it can be to hide their history and bad publicity they received.
If it is under new ownership do your due diligence. The quality of work and reputation of the old owner most likely won’t give any signal of how the new owner operates.
2) When I make payment, is the money going to a business account or personal account?
Your builder should be set up as a legitimate business (licensed and insured) so that you can be covered by laws that deal with businesses and consumers. What you don’t want is all of your money going into someone’s personal bank account which should something bad happen will be hard to get back.
3) What payment milestones do you require?
As we mentioned you want the payments to roughly match the completion of the project. They should be set in the contract so that you both have obligations to meet and you have in writing exactly what you agreed on. Beware of Joe Casual and his “give me $X now and we’ll sort the rest out later”.
4) How many projects of this size and type have you completed?
You want to be sure your contractor is up for the task, this is obviously important for big and complex projects where heavy equipment is involved but equally important for smaller pool designs too. You don’t want to hire someone to work on your $20k plunge pool with a water feature, outdoor kitchen and a firepit to someone who has only ever done Olympic sized recreation center pools.
5) Can you give me some references?
When people receive great service and are happy dealing with a pool builder they will be glad to recommend them to others. If your builder can give you some references for you to call you will be able to get a clear idea on what they are like to deal with. You want to ask the pool recipient not only about the outcome of the pool but also how the builder was to deal with during the project, if any problems happened and how the workmanship has been months after the project was completed.
Helpful tip: Consider the answers to questions 4 & 5. If the number of references is much lower than the number of completed projects, that shows a low satisfaction rate and a bad sign.
6) How will I be kept up to date about the project’s progress?
It is a good idea to be upfront with how up to date you want to be kept during the project. Some builders are great at communicating and dedicate time each week to update their clients on progress. Others tend to be less proactive and require you to chase them for info. Let your expectations be known from the get go so you are both on the same page.
7) Is everything necessary to complete the project covered in the quote?
One of the most important questions on this list. You don’t want to be caught with any surprises here. Most likely you will compare a few quotes and to ensure you are comparing apples with apples, talk to the builder so it is clear what the contract does and, more importantly, doesn’t include.
Ideally, they will handle every aspect of the project, including the required permits needed. A pool build where the 2 parties don’t agree on whose responsibility is what is a recipe for disaster.
8) What warranties can I expect on the installed items and on the workmanship?
There are many parts that make up a pool project. Find out exactly what the warranties are on these items. These are things like; pool lining, pool cover, water pump, heater, etc.
Also ask if they offer a warranty on their workmanship, a reputable pool builder will stand by their work for many years.
9) Do you offer ongoing maintenance and servicing?
All pools need ongoing maintenance. If you have extra features like waterfalls or an automatic pool cover, they all need servicing too. Talk to your builder about how regularly each item needs servicing so you know what maintenance costs you will have ongoing. It is the ideal time to negotiate servicing as they may offer a very good rate to get you over the line on the main pool project.