Tag Archives: urban referrals

Urban Referrals Gets New Owners

Urban Referrals, a contractor referral service in Washington, DC, just changed ownership. Sarah and John Steel are the new captains at the helm, and we had a brief chat with Sarah about where they came from (DC!) and what you can expect from their service.

First off, how did you come to Urban Referrals?
It happened organically.  I’m friends with the former owner, Marla Ray, and have used Urban Referral several times for projects in my home.  When Marla relocated out of the area, she started thinking about selling the company to someone local to the DC area.  We had a few conversations about it and ultimately, that “someone” was my husband, John and me.

What’s your background?
John and I have both been in the DC area for nearly 20 years.  My background is in business development and operations.  I’ve managed so many company relocations and new build-outs over the years that I decided to get a Master’s degree in real estate development and construction.  John’s background is in managing large computer networks.  He’s a genius with processes and procedures.  I’m used to being out in front and he’s used to being behind the scenes — we make a good team!

So how exactly does Urban Referrals work?
It all starts with the Urban Referrals web site and completing the Referral Request Form (found at the “Find a Contractor” button). That request comes to me and I match the client with our contractors and then facilitate the exchange of contact information and project details between them.

From there, the client and contractor work together directly, although Urban Referrals is still available for any questions, concerns etc. If a client chooses to use one of our contractors, we’ll track the job progress and follow up with them at the end of the project to get their feedback about their experience.

What are the benefits of using your service?
The top three are:

1. We only refer professional, trustworthy contractors.  Their licensure, insurance and work product is verified before joining our network and tracked afterward.  We meet with them to make sure their professionalism and customer service is at the level we demand and we monitor each job we refer to make sure that high level is maintained.

2.  We understand that for most people, construction or repairs can be daunting and we’ll talk you through your project (literally!), the process, answer questions, lend support and be your advocate when necessary.

3. Our service is free and will ultimately save you time and money.  If everyone calculated how much of their time it takes to research potential contractors, do the necessary vetting, and figure out the best practices for undertaking a construction project they’d be shocked at how much they’ve “spent.”

 What kind of contractors can one find through you?
Our network has everything from electricians, plumbers and mechanical (HVAC) technicians to handymen and General Contractors who handle kitchen, bath, basement and whole home renovations and additions.  We also have specialty trades like painting, waterproofing, landscaping, locksmiths, flooring, tile work, upholstery etc.  Our goal is to have a referral for anything that would be classified as building construction, repair or maintenance.

5 Tips to Hiring a Contractor

hiring a contractor

Don’t let contractor horror stories scare you into DIY submission. Some projects go well beyond typical homeowner skill.  We talked to Marla Ray of Urban Referrals, a DC-based company that connects people with contractors, about what to look for in a contractor and how to go about securing one.

1. What’s the most important thing to look for in a contractor no matter what it is you need done?

No matter how large or small a remodeling job may be, you always want to make sure they hire a company that is licensed, insured (including worker’s compensation) and EPA RRP certified if they live in a home built before 1978. There are a few trades that do not require licensing, however insurance is always required and protects both parties.

2. How many contractors should you get in touch with for a quote?

I always suggest consumers meet with two companies to assess their project and to discuss ideas and pricing. Please note, it’s key to ensure the contractors are bidding on the exact same scope of work.

If they don’t feel comfortable with the companies they meet with (they arrived late, took too long to provide a proposal, is booked too far out, personalities did not mesh) or the quote differs dramatically, a third meeting may be necessary. I see too many people getting four, five and six estimates, and it creates havoc and wastes everyone’s time and in the end, that person was just looking for the lowest price.

This leads me to a popular myth: “If I tell the contractor how much I can spend, they will make their bid match my budget.” Not true! Reputable companies have software and metrics they use to create estimates. These tools enable them to create a proposal in which they can do the job and make money for their business. Length of the job, number of employees needed and material costs are factored into pricing. Nine out of ten times, consumer budgets are not enough for the entire scope of work, so it is key to start off your contractor meetings with open communication and honesty about what kind of funding you have to work with. The contractor can then make recommendations regarding what work can be done and what materials can be purchased.

3. When is it worth it to pay a little more?

The old saying “You get what you pay for” is 100 percent true. I see too many customers go with the lowest bid then come back to us after the job was not finished or done incorrectly. They end up having to spend more money to get it re-done or finished properly.

4. Not every contractor is worth their salt, but it might not be overtly obvious on first meet. Tell us about some red flags that could be tip offs.

I always have contractors provide us with their licensing, insurance, EPA RRP certification (if required), business cards and customer references. If a company does not have all of these components, you may want to disregard meeting with them.

5.  If someone has concerns with someone they hired, what is the best first step to take?

Communication is key. If you are upset or confused by something going on with your home renovation, talk to your contractor right away. Do not wait until the job is done. Most reputable companies will be more than happy to address your concerns.

Win a $20 Gift Card

gift card

A $20 gift card could be yours.

Win this lovely gift card just by emailing Marla at Urban Referrals. She’s celebrating her company’s 7-year anniversary and is giving away deals all week. Oh, and speaking of freebies, 5th Street Ace is doing super-secret passwords EVERY WEEK DAY. When you mention the super-secret password at the store, you will get something free. You can find out the super-secret password by either becoming a fan of 5th Street Ace on Facebook or following us on Twitter. Hop to!