5 Tips to Help You Hire the Right Contractor

(written by Dominique Charrette)

Hiring a contractor can be scary and extremely stressful.  We’ve all heard the horror stories: “They didn’t finish the job, even after I paid them,” “When the inspector came out to look at the house, nothing was done to code, and now I can’t get a hold of the contractor.”  In order to make sure you make the right choices when it comes to hiring, I’ve put together a few tips that I have learned while renovating my 1924 fixer-upper.

Keep an eye out for these red flags during your search:

  • Only accepts cash.
  • Pressures you for quick hiring decision.
  • Requests complete payment up front.
  • Quotes job without seeing it first.
  • Doesn’t ask about pulling permits.

Ask Around. Before you jump on Google or hit the Yellow Pages, make sure to ask friends, family, neighbors or co-workers if they have had any recent renovations done.  They may have used a contractor that they liked, or didn’t like.  Another good source could be your city; their inspectors more than likely know contractors in the area that have done good work.  Word of mouth can be a big marketing tool for contractors.  If you are the type who relies on online reviews, there are sites like Angie’s List that charge for monthly or yearly memberships, starting at about $4 a month.  Contractors don’t have tangible goods to sell; they have their reputation and experience.

Get Multiple Quotes. Usually you would want to get 3–5 quotes for the job.  This sets a baseline for how much the job will most likely cost and will rule out anyone trying to rip you off.  If you get two quotes around $10,000 and one at $20,000 more than likely the high one is way off.  However, there could be a reasonable explanation for the difference; you could be comparing apples to oranges.  When getting multiple quotes, walk through with the contractor and make sure they are quoting apples to apples.  One contractor may have plumbing needs included in their price, and the other may not.

When getting a quote remember:

  • Compare apples to apples.
  • Ask what their time frame is.
  • Ask to see pictures from previous work they have done.
  • Ask as many questions as you see fit; “WHY?” is an excellent question.
  • Have them itemize their quote.
  • Do not automatically go with the lowest price; you often get what you pay for.
  • Ask if they will be using any sub-contractors.
    • Find out what the sub-contractors quote is.
    • If you feel you can find a better price, quote out the work, but make sure that the contractor will be willing to work with them.

Make sure the contractor is licensed. Using a licensed contractor is important for many reasons, so make sure to do your homework. 

  • In most cities, only a licensed contractor, plumber, HVAC specialist, electrician, etc. will be able to pull a permit. Call your city for details.
  • If you work with an unlicensed contractor, and you don’t feel the work is up to par, there is no one to appeal to.  When working with a licensed contractor, you can appeal to the state licensing board.
  • In many states, in order to bid jobs that cost more than $500 or so, the contractor must be licensed.

If you are unsure whether or not the contractor you potentially will be working with is licensed, and you aren’t keen on trusting their word or documentation, you can find out on ContractorsLicense.org if the contractor is licensed in your state.

Set up another walk-through.  After you’ve made your decision, set-up another walk-through to make sure you and your chosen contractor are on the same page.  Also, if you are using sub-contractors (such as plumbers or electricians) that were not chosen by the contractor, make sure you set up a walk-through for all of you, together, to talk about the job and scheduling.  The right hand should know what the left hand is doing at all times.

Talk about possible unforeseen costs. Many times there will be unforeseen costs when it comes to renovating.  You never know what is behind a wall or in a ceiling.  The contractor should address this possibility before it happens. If they don’t, beat them to the punch and ask what their procedure is if something were to happen.  Ask if they could provide change orders for the work before they do it.  This allows you to see the price for the change and what the additional work entails.

Hopefully these tips help alleviate the stress involved when renovating.  It is important to take these tips into account even if it seems time consuming; they will most likely prevent more stress later on when the work is underway.  Be smart, and good luck!

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