How to Choose the Right Contractor

Anyone’s who’s had renovation or construction work done on their property will tell you that finding the right contractor can be difficult. Here are some helpful steps to make sure you hire the right one the first time around:

Smiling Contractor in Hard Hat with Roll of Plans Over Custom Kitchen Drawing and Photo Combination.

 
 

Start with the Plan, Not the Contractor

Before even beginning the search process, do some thinking and planning about what you’d like to have done. Be very specific with your vision and have a thorough understanding of what your budget will be. Having these plans done ahead of time ensures that you’ll end up with a finished project that’s in line with what you originally imagined. Otherwise, you may be vulnerable to “scope creep” and end up with a much larger project than you intended!
 

Ask for Referrals

This is by far the best way to find possible contractors. Ask your friends, family, and other people you trust about their experience with contractors that they’ve hired. They’ll be able to give you an honest opinion about who you should hire and who you should stay away from.
 

Look at Credentials

Once you’ve started to amass a list of possible hires, start to take a look at their credentials. Give them a preliminary phone call and look on their website. Do they have the necessary insurance coverage and licenses from state and local government agencies? Do they have education or certifications in the area you’re looking to hire them for? Do they have accreditation or designations from professional associations?
 

Check References

As you narrow down your list of potentials, begin to check their references. Call or visit past clients and get a first-hand look at the work the contractor did. Discuss their work with their references: were they punctual? Easy to work with? Honest and forthcoming when issues arose? If you can, also try and visit any current job sites they might be working on. Does the site look professional, safe, and clean?
 
Another option is to check for online reviews on sites such as Angie’s List and Yelp. Keep in mind, however, you should take these reviews with a grain of salt. You never truly know the whole story behind someone’s anonymous review.
 

Interview candidates

When you’ve narrowed your list to just a few, start to conduct interviews by phone or preferably in person. Here, you can ask them about things you weren’t able to find online and learn more about their work style. You can also get a gut feeling for who they might be if hired, which is extremely important. You may be spending weeks or months around this person, so you want to be sure you can trust them.
 
Additionally, don’t be surprised if a contractor tells you they wouldn’t be able to start on your project for a while. The best contractors are the busy contractors, so while you may have to put your project on hold for a bit, it would be worth it to get someone you can trust.
 

Get Bids

After your interviews, get official bids from the contractors. Ask them to break down the proposals in terms of materials, labor, profit margins, and other expenses. This will make it easier to compare bids between contractors. It may also make sense to call suppliers to determine the actual material costs. This will give you an idea of how much the contractor is marking up their prices in their bid.
 
Also pay close attention to the professionalism of the document. Is it well outlined, clear, and concise? This may not seem like a huge deal, but as they say, “how you do the small things is how you do the big things.”
 

Draw up a Clear and Thorough Contract

This is arguably the most important step in this process. Once you’ve decided who you’d like to hire and what they’re going to charge to do the work, you want to draw up the details and timeline of the project into a very clear and thorough contract. If anything were to happen or go wrong during the project, your contract is going to be the thing that saves you. The contract should cover costs of the project, the approximate timeline (start and end dates), and the brands of items being installed, if applicable.
 
You also want to set a payment schedule in your contract. Be wary of contractors looking for large down payments. This may indicate money problems or a fear that you may not like your finished project. A good rule of thumb is not to pay more than 10% of the job total before the job starts and also not to make the final payment until the project is 100% complete.