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5 Tips on How To Hire a Contractor

Updated Oct 11, 2022

Updated Oct 11, 2022

Home > Maintenance & Renovation > 5 Tips on How To Hire a Contractor

When it comes to home improvement projects and renovations, hiring the right contractor is one of the most crucial decisions you can make. Hiring a subpar contractor can set your project’s completion date or, in extreme cases, cause damage to your home. Hiring the right contractor can also be challenging as their reputations are not always clear, and online reviews can be deceiving. To help, we’ve compiled a list of our best tips on how to hire and thoroughly vet a contractor.  

Do Your Research 

When searching for local contractors, you will soon discover there is no shortage of trained professionals for almost every possible job. Choice paralysis can be difficult to overcome but keep in mind that, in this situation, patience is a virtue. Browse until you compile a list of potential candidates for the job. Afterward, do a deep dive into each contractor, checking the following elements:

  • Reviews: You can get a general sense of customer satisfaction from the reviews on a contractor’s Google My Business account and the Better Business Bureau account page While at a BBB page, you can also check for accreditations, complaints, and other valuable information.
  • History: Check to see how long they have been in business. By checking a contractor’s history, you can gauge their authenticity of work. A contractor’s work history can let you know if they specialize in or have relevant experience in work related to your particular job. You can also check your state’s Consumer Protection Agency to see if they have a history of complaints.
  • Check for complaints or legal violations: Websites like the BBB offer comprehensive lists of known violations and significant complaints.
  • Get ahold of old clients: One of the most reliable ways to gauge a contractor’s workmanship and customer satisfaction is getting ahold of old clients. 

Check Past Work 

It can be helpful to see a contractor’s work firsthand. Getting a personal look at past jobs allows you to gauge workmanship quality and get an idea of your future job’s outcome. Many reputable general contractors will have online showcases displaying previous work. 

Get in Contact and Check Qualifications

For this tip, you will need to call the potential contractors you’re looking to hire. This initial call is essential and can reveal necessary information. When calling them, ask yourself: 

  • Did they answer the phone and communicate like professionals? 
  • Did they treat you with respect? 
  • Are they genuinely interested in helping you with your house? 
  • Are they trying to sell you on features or work you don’t need? 
  • Are they knowledgeable about their field? 
  • Do they answer your questions clearly?
  • Are they interested in your project, or do you seem like “just another customer?”

While speaking to them, you can ask several questions to get an idea about the authenticity of their business: 

  • Ask about licensing and building permits: Each state has different licensing requirements, so it’s best to look up what your state requires for contractors ahead of time. When you call, ask about the contractor’s license and if they have the necessary permits. A contractor should be able to provide you with a verifiable license number and proper permit information.
  • Ask about insurance and bonding: A reputable contractor should always carry liability insurance, bonding (a type of insurance that covers damage to public property), and workers’ compensation insurance. You can ask them for a copy of their Certificate of Insurance (COI). This document provides essential information on the insurance policy. With a COI, you can learn the insurance company’s name and the contracting company’s policy number, and coverage limits. To ensure the policy is still active, you can call the insurance company directly and inquire if the contractor associated with the policy number is still in good standing. 
  • Ask if they have done similar jobs and have experience with this kind of work: When talking to the local contractor, thoroughly explain the kind of job you need them to do. Afterward, ask if they have done specific projects like this one before, and if so, what their overall experience is with that kind of work. If you are unsure about their answer, you can always ask about specific examples of their related works and even ask for photos of the work (most contractors and subcontractors take before and after photos.) 
  • Ask if they have any references you can contact: While it might sound odd, asking for references is commonplace in the construction industry. There are plenty of less than reputable or downright unskilled contractors out there. Good contractors will be more than willing to provide a couple of references for you to contact. 
  • Ask for a cost estimate: Depending on the complexity and nature of your job, a contractor may be able to provide you with a rough estimate over the phone. Be wary of those that generate or offer official quotes over the phone, as any good contractor will want to meet and see the job site before creating a complete quote and contract. When asking for an estimate over the phone, most contracting companies will try to use this as a jumping-off point to schedule an in-person meeting as an opportunity to create an in-person quote. 
  • Ask for a rough project timeline: Like the cost estimate, they will only be able to give you a general or expected timeline without seeing the site first. However, keep an eye out for those that propose to get jobs done faster than they typically take. Jobs have time frames for a reason, and those that cut corners for time can be prone to shirking on quality. 
  • Ask about payment schedules: Some prefer to talk about billing after a quote has been generated, but you should still be able to get some information over the phone. You will want to ask about their deposit requirements and if they require an upfront payment. Deposits, or down payments, are common, and the average amount is between 5-25% of the job’s estimated total cost. Anything above 30% is excessive and a red flag. Furthermore, steer clear of any contractor who requires you to pay in cash or pay for the project upfront; these are almost always scams. You should always pay for construction jobs with either a check or a credit card.

Shop Around and Get Multiple Quotes

Your in-person meeting with a contractor is essential, as it allows you to get a feel for their authenticity, professionalism, and conduct. Be sure to discuss the ins and outs of your project when meeting with the contractor. If the contractor is legitimate, they should be able to answer your questions effectively and give you a better understanding of your project’s time frame. During your meeting, the contractor should also be able to provide you with an itemized quote that will lay out the exact cost of your project. Be sure not to sign anything at this time, as you will want to compare quotes between your contractors and carefully read through their contracts before deciding. 

Carefully Compare Quotes and Review Contracts

Once you have met with the contractors and received quotes, you can now compare their prices and review their contracts. Shopping for quotes is common, and it allows you to get a good understanding of the actual cost of a project. Quotes vary from company to company, but they all should contain: 

  • Contact information 
  • Date prepared/date proposed 
  • Description of work to be completed 
  • Description of the site/location of the job
  • A table describing terms, cost categories, and types of costs associated with the job 
  • A detailed breakdown of expected specific costs, including materials, labor hours, etc.
  • The expected time frame for work 

As for contracts, there are several different types of construction contracts, reflecting different payment ranges and models. Contracting companies and independent contractors may use one or multiple different kinds of contracts depending on the particular job. Regardless of the type of contract, they should include the following: 

  • Contractor and client contact information 
  • Title and detailed description of the project 
  • Project timeline and completion dates
  • Cost estimate and payment schedule 
  • Stop-work clause 
    • This clause gives the contractor the right to stop work if they have not received payment according to the payment schedule. 
  • Stop-payment clause 
    • This clause gives the client the right to refuse final payment if the project was not completed to project milestones or if the work is of subpar quality. 
  • Act of God clause 
    • This clause outlines what will happen in the event of natural disasters or other uncontrollable circumstances that prevents the contractor from completing the job. 
  • Change order/project expansion agreement
  • Warranty information 
  • Dual party signature

Final Thoughts

One final tip is to keep everything in writing. You cannot prove the validity of any verbal or otherwise non-written contract. Having a verifiable paper trail and written account of responsibility is essential for both sides in construction projects – any contractor who wants to begin work without a written agreement is shady at best. Thankfully, by following these tips and insights can help you find the right contractor for your next project or home renovation.

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