How Do I Find a Good Contractor?

Making your home your own is one of the joys of homeownership. If you're dreaming of making changes to your home, and doing it yourself just won't cut it this time, we're here to help. Let's discuss the steps to hiring a quality contractor. 

Know What You Want 

The first step to hiring a contractor is to nail down what you want to do to your home. It may sound simple, but don't skip this step. 

Be specific. Collect images. Research the materials you’d like to use. Consult the world wide web and refine that idea. 

Better yet, talk to friends, neighbors, and coworkers who have recently renovated. Nothing's better than first-hand experience. Ask them about the process. What surprises did they run into? What will they do differently next time around? 

The more specific you can be with contractors, the more realistic your bid will be. Sure, contractors can give you guidance, but hemming and hawing about what you want can cause major issues down the round. Setting clear expectations upfront is the best way to get the result you want. 

Consult with Professionals

So you've got your idea. You're off to the races to find a contractor! Not so fast. Consulting with other professionals first can help you avoid costly mistakes, saving time and money in the long run. 

You may want to run your ideas by a realtor. She can help you understand if it's a renovation that will improve resale or one that won't add value to your home. Your realtor may also be able to provide you with some reliable contractor referrals.

A decorator or interior designer may also be a helpful resource as your brainstorming, particularly if you’re making significant changes. Keep in mind that contractors are not designers. Some have an eye for detail and design, but more often than not, their top priorities are to get the job done without adding unnecessary costs.

Like realtors, decorators usually have a list of contractors they can recommend. Contractors rely on relationships like these (with realtors, decorators, and so on) for continual business, so they’re more likely to be attentive to your needs and deliver high-quality work. They may be okay burning a bridge with a single customer, but not with influential players in their own industry.

Ask for Referrals

Ask your friends, family, and coworkers for references, too. Check out their renovations in person or see if they can share images with you.

Not having any luck within your closest circle? Try posting on social media, asking on nextdoor, or even checking with folks at the local hardware store.  

Interview Contractors 

Set a professional tone when you interview contractors. Ask for some references who you can call, and make sure you cover the following topics during your interview.

  • Quote—It can be tempting, but our advice—don’t pick the lowest bid. The old adage “you get what you pay for” usually rings true here. Get at least three quotes, and pick the bid in the middle (assuming everything else checks out). 
  • Timing—How long does the contractor expect your project will take? And when can the contractor start? Don’t expect a good contractor to be available right away. The good ones are usually busy. 
  • Specialties—Ask what type of work the contractor typically does. As they say, contractors are often jack of all trades and master of none. Know what work they plan to do themselves and what they’ll subcontract out as well as how they’ll manage the subcontractor's work. 
  • Check licenses—Make sure the contractor is licensed for residential jobs. Licensure rules vary by state, so be sure to check with your local better business bureau or state office.  
  • Insurance—Along those lines, ask for proof of insurance from your contractor and any subcontractors. And check if your contractor is bonded. If they’re bonded and leave you high and dry, you’re covered for up to $12,500. Otherwise, you’re out of luck. It's also important to check what your homeowner's policy covers
  • Permits—As we've said a time or two, don't skip the permit. Most renovations projects require them. And you’re subject to fines if you get caught without one. Having one also means the city will inspect the finished project to ensure it’s up to code. 
  • Contract—Ensure that your contract outlines what will be done—deadlines, payments, materials, and other expectations. Without one, it’s your word against theirs. And another word of caution: don’t agree to pay more than 10 percent before the contractor starts.

Have more questions about the remodeling process? Check out our plethora of remodeling tips.