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Past Performance is the main factor in sorting out good contractors from bad.

Oakmark's "past performance" is our most important qualification, and our most valued intangible asset. If you'd like to speak or meet with our customers, please let us know. We'll happily provide you with a list based on the size, scope and nature of the project you're considering. The Testimonials are from well regarded members of the Northern Virginia communities where we work. You might know some of them.

Still, what red flags should a homeowner look for?

source: good: bad:
clients' comments: Prior clients' comments are the ultimate indicators of the experience you might have with a contractor. We're proud of the record Oakmark has developed in the Northern Virginia community. We'll happily provide you with references. Frankly, you've probably found us by way of a personal referral. A homeowner that's had a bad experience with a contractor will typically give you the full and unvarnished truth.
dba history: A long history in your neighborhood under the same business name. The company's project signs have appeared in your community repeatedly. This is positive because clusters of projects result from favorable neighborhood references. Most firms have nice brochures. Oakmark has excellent references. No history is at best a neutral. Construction contractors tend to be geographically rooted to an area, and all firms do have a history. So if discovering it is challenging, consider it a bad sign. (If you decide to give a start-up a chance, allow for the lack of experience by checking the principal's personal job references. He learned his craft somewhere.)
state license commission: Virginia's licensing board for contractors is online. You can easily verify a license, check on the status of the licensee for the current license term using the website's search facility. A proper history of prior years requires a minor fee, however. Consumer complaints or disputes, commercial vendor issues, permit violations, or open formal commonwealth actions should be very big red flags.
competitors' comments: Competitors do know each other, better than you might expect. A direct competitor claims a superior product, explains market differentiation, describes the various niches in the industry. That's par for the course. A direct competitor lists specific, factual trouble you can verify. Take notes, and check before proceeding. Good contractors would actually prefer that the bad ones weren't around. A bad actor is bad for everybody.
commercial connections: The local hardware store guys give favorable comments. Treat referrals to their buddies as neutral, and press for comments on the specific contractor you're interested in. The local hardware store guys change the subject. "Never heard of 'em" might be meaningless, unless you know the contractor has been around in the store's market for a while.

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