When it comes to home improvement, some projects are simply too big to tackle on your own. If you’re thinking about hiring a contractor to help with a project, it’s important to know you’re getting quality, trustworthy service.
In this article, I’ll look at six of the most important things to keep in mind when you hire a contractor.
This article was updated in June 2023 and I review it every 12 months. Detailed notes on all updates can be found here.
How To Hire a Contractor
Whether you’re remodeling your home, dealing with plumbing issues or repairing your roof, you may find yourself in need of professional help. Regardless of how big or small the project, hiring a quality contractor can make a huge difference.
No matter what you’re buying, you always want to make sure you’re getting the most for your money. Unfortunately, when it comes to contractors, the cheapest option isn’t always the best.
Consider the following six tips to find the best person for the job. Also, be sure to print or bookmark our Hiring a Contractor: To-Do List to keep these tips in mind as you work through the hiring process.
1. Research and Collect Information
If you aren’t sure where to start when it comes to hiring a contractor, ask your family, friends and neighbors for recommendations.
You can also check reliable online resources such as Home Advisor, Angi, Thumbtack or Task Rabbit. These websites allow you to search for contractors by the type of service you’re looking for. You can read trusted reviews, see contractors’ credentials and get estimated price quotes.
No matter how you end up finding potential options, be thorough in your research and make sure you’re considering only insured, qualified contractors. Verify that any contractor you consider carries sufficient liability insurance and has workers comp insurance.
Money expert Clark Howard warns that if a contractor doesn’t have sufficient liability or workers comp insurance, a waiver of liability won’t be enough.
“The waiver of liability won’t protect you. It goes all the way back to English common law that you’re responsible for what happens on your property.”
If you’re hiring through a company, confirm that its employees and subcontractors have all had background checks, have been trained and are certified.
Once you’ve found a few contractors that look good on paper, it’s time to reach out. You can interview potential contractors over the phone or meet with them in person. Find out if they’re able to complete your project, whether they have reliable references, how many other projects they’re currently working on and how long they’ve been working as a contractor. This will help you narrow down your initial list.
2. Check References
Now that you have a few contractors you’re considering, you’ll want to check their references.
“References are great, and people are really proud of the work they’ve done to their homes,” says money expert Clark Howard. “What I like for people to do is get a reference sheet with dates the jobs were done.”
If possible, call a few references and talk about the project(s) the contractor has done for them. Be sure to ask about the service, overall experience and quality of work. Also, find out whether the contractor stuck to the original estimated budget and project completion date.
It’s also important to know the dates of a contractor’s previous projects so that you can see if there are any big time gaps between projects. If there are six blank months on the reference sheet, find out what happened during that time. An unsatisfied customer’s name might have been taken off the list.
3. Visit Previous Projects
Once you’ve contacted references and narrowed down your list even more, you may want to consider visiting a few project sites where your “finalist” contractors worked.
“I like for you to go see the work that a contractor you’re thinking of hiring has done for other people,” recommends Clark. “Even if they’ve done good quality work, you may not like their style or taste.”
Of course, it’s better to find any red flags before you make a final decision especially if you’re working on a big project. Seeing what the contractors have done for other people can really help you to make an educated decision.
If possible, also try to check out a current job site. This will tell you a lot about how a contractor works, what your upcoming project site may look like and give you a better overall idea of what to expect.
4. Get Multiple Quotes
Before you hire a contractor, be sure to get multiple price quotes. Just like anything else, it’s important to compare prices so that you know you aren’t overpaying (or underpaying) for a service.
To get an accurate estimate, include as many details as possible about the project.
“When you get quotes, the quotes have to be very specific,” says Clark. “I find that when people really get in trouble with a contractor is when they take a standard form they’ve found on the internet and they’ll put in something like ‘rebuild deck,’ and that’s all they say.”
Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as going with the lowest price when it comes to home improvement projects. In fact, it’s a safe rule to assume that you’ll get what you pay for in terms of contract work. If there’s an extremely low bid in the mix, you may want to throw that option out.
5. Focus on Details
Being as specific as possible is important during each step of the process when it comes to hiring a contractor. Once you’ve found a strong potential candidate, it becomes even more important to discuss the exact project details.
“The more specific you are, the more likely you are to find the right contractor and get a better result,” reminds Clark.
Plan the project ahead of time with your contractor and map out all of the details in writing. Figure out when the contractor will start, how long the project should take, what materials will be used and what color stain, paint or finish, etc. This is the best way to ensure you’ll be happy with the project outcome.
The more details you’re able to include in the initial plans, the fewer surprises you’ll have along the way. Avoid unexpected expenses, delays and miscommunications by getting everything in writing and being as specific as possible.
6. Arrange a Payment Schedule
Once you’ve found the perfect contractor for your job, be sure to agree on a payment schedule. This is another way to avoid potential miscommunication.
While the contractor will most likely require a down payment, you don’t want to pay in full upfront. In fact, make sure your final payment isn’t due until after the work has been completed. That will help ensure you’re happy with the final product.
Lastly, try to pay in a way that leaves an easy-to-follow paper trail. Use a card or checks as opposed to paying cash.
While hiring a contractor can seem like an entire project on its own, you should feel confident in your choice after following these six steps.
To build your initial list of potential contractors, reach out to friends and check reliable sources online. Collect as much information as possible about each contractor including a list of previous references with dates and verified credentials and insurance.
If possible, visit previous or current job sites of the contractors you’re strongly considering. And before you make your final decision, be sure to get multiple price quotes.
Stay focused on the details throughout the entire process but especially when it comes to paperwork. Get everything in writing including a payment schedule that you’ve agreed on with your contractor. Make sure your final payment isn’t due until after the project is complete.
Print or bookmark our Hiring a Contractor To-Do List to keep these tips in mind as you work through the hiring process.
Let us know your best tips for hiring a contractor in our Clark.com Community!
- June 23, 2023: Added details on confirming a contractor has sufficient liability/workers comp insurance including a recent quote from Clark