Choosing the wrong contractor to handle your project could result in strong feelings of remorse, but how can you make sure it won’t happen to you? With, what seems like, endless contractor options out there, making the right decision can be tricky. However, by following these guidelines on how to hire a contractor, you can ensure that you’ve made the best possible choice. So, whether you’re remodeling your kitchen, installing new flooring in the living room, or adding on a deck to house that newly purchase patio furniture, make sure your chosen contractor can handle the job with ease.
Before you contract a contractor, do your research. Simply put: become a bit of an expert on your project. Why? Well, doing so will make you feel comfortable enough to speak intelligently about it with potential contractors, not to mention, allow you to spot red flags and avoid uncomfortable situations, should they arise.
Rather than doing a quick Google search and selecting the first contractor listed, ask your friends, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers for a personal referral. If your inner-circle comes up short, ask local business owners, property managers, or real estate agents for suggestions. With those in hand, then you can take your search online.
So, you’ve met with a contractor and began discussing the needs of your project, right? Great! If a pricing and completion estimate was not provided on the spot (fairly common practice), it is likely that you’ll be receiving one in 24-48 hours. Before an estimate is provided, make it clear that you require an itemized bid. All reputable contractors should happily comply with this request, and quite frankly, probably already provide it! Wondering what’s on an itemized bid? Well, typically, itemized bids list out all aspects and inclusions of your project, such as plumbing, painting, and carpentry tasks. Be wary of contractors who are unwilling to provide you with a detailed breakdown of their bid.
Never settle on the first contractor you meet, even if they knock your socks off! Take a few days, weeks, or even months, to shop around. A good rule of thumb is to obtain at least three different bids from contractors that you trust and feel comfortable with; this gives you a nice pool of options. When choosing between your top three contractors, consider more than just price; take these factors into consideration as well:
Think you've made your choice? Great! Now it’s time to perform a routine background check. Firstly, contact your desired contractor to let them know that you’d like them to provide you with references. Again, always be wary of any contractor who refuses to provide you with references. Once you’ve been provided with references, contact them – ask any question you can think of to ease your mind about allowing the contractor to take on your project. As an added safety measure, we suggest checking with the Better Business Bureau to see how the contractor ranks.
You wouldn't trust an unlicensed and uninsured taxi driver to chauffeur you all over town, would you? Of course not – which is why you should never allow an unlicensed and uninsured contractor to complete your project. When it comes to contractor licenses, simply make sure they are licensed to work in the city and state the project is being performed in. If you feel uncomfortable in assessing their credentials, rely on The Contractor’s License Reference Site for help in determining what licenses your project requires and if your desired contractor possesses them. For added safety and security, always ask for a copy of their insurance information to make sure they are, at least, covered for general liability and worker’s compensation.
If you think it seems fishy that a contractor would ask you to obtain a permit for your project, it is! It is, and always will be, the responsibility of the contractor to obtain any and all permits needed to plan, design, and complete your project. Making the mistake of obtaining the project permit for a contractor makes you the target if anything goes wrong.
During the interview process (around step three), ask your contractor how they handle payment. For safety and security purposes, payments should always be made to a company (never to an individual) via check (never cash). While most contractors require a reasonable initial deposit of 10-15%, you should never be held responsible for the cost of raw materials. Due to the high-cost of home improvements and maintenance projects, it is perfectly normal to make payments in monthly installments.
Lien waivers serve as proof that your contractor has paid for the labor and materials required by your project(s), and not on other expenses. To avoid being liable for payment, never compensate a contractor without first seeing, and assessing, lien waivers that equal to the entire amount due. Keep in mind: your contractor should provide you with a lien waiver for his labor and materials as well.
This may seem like common sense, but we can’t stress it enough: never hire a contractor without a signed contract in place first. Remember, if it isn't in the contract, a contractor isn't legally obligated to comply. A signed contract should include a variety of items, such as: