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Hiring A Contractor: What You Need To Know

Samantha Bryant6-minute read
June 24, 2021

Tackling any home improvement project may seem daunting. Perhaps you need to knock down a wall in order to have room for the kitchen island of your dreams, or create more space by adding a finished basement to your home. Whatever project you have in mind, it’s always a good idea to turn to an expert. Hiring a contractor will add ease to your home improvement goals as they will make sure the job is done efficiently. When you hire a contractor it’s important to make sure you are on the same page and they fit the bill for your specific project.

Knowing the ins and outs of how to hire a contractor is an important step towards your home renovation goals.

How To Hire A Contractor

You have the project in mind and you’re on the hunt for a contractor. Depending on your specific home improvement project – whether it’s an addition, kitchen remodel, or a finished basement – there’s a contractor who will best suit the job. You may want to find one who specializes in your specific project and move forward from there.

You’ll often find that word of mouth recommendations are reliable. Friends and family will likely have some truthful insight. A trusted real estate professional may also be able to point you in the right direction, as they have an inside scoop as to which contractor is the best fit for the project you have in mind. You can also search for reviews online and apps such as NextDoor or Home Advisor will give you recommendations from your neighbors regarding specific projects.

Once you’ve narrowed down your search, it’s time to open the line of communication with potential contractors. Be prepared and have your questions ready. You can first reach out via email and then line up a phone interview to make sure you’re on the same page. If you’d like to move forward, the next step is to meet with them in person to show them what you need done and to see how they would tackle the job. It’s important to make sure the lines of communication are open, as it offers a glimpse as to what it would be like to work with that specific contractor.

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What To Ask For When Hiring A Contractor: Checklist Items

Once you start interviewing contractors, the best piece of advice is to be prepared with a hiring checklist. Treat this like a job interview and make sure to ask the right questions so there are no surprises once they’re hired for the job.

You’ll want to make sure the appropriate information and documentation is provided and everyone is on the same page.

Price Estimate

It’s important to ask for a pricing quote for your desired project. To do so, find out if you are being provided with a fixed-price proposal or estimate proposal. A fixed-price proposal will quote you a single flat-rate price for completion of the work. An estimate-style proposal should list every detail including materials used, actual hours worked, and work that will be performed by any potential subcontractors. This style of proposal should provide you with a transparent perspective. In addition to finding out the type of proposal you should expect to receive, find out what the payment style will look like. Determine if you will need to pay upfront, at the end when the job is complete, or in installments. It’s also important to find out how they will handle any charges for unexpected expenses that may arise during the course of your project.

Project Timeline Estimate

In addition to price, you will need to get an estimate on how long your project will take and an anticipated completion date. You should receive a detailed scope of work that will outline how long the project will take and the steps they plan to complete the project. It should serve as a prediction of the progress you should expect to receive when working with a specific contractor.

Licenses And Proof Of Insurance

Any reputable contractor will have both licensing and proof of insurance, and it’s important that they have both. Most states require general licensing; however, be sure to add this to your checklist to make sure everything is covered. You should ask for them to provide proof of licensing and insurance.

There are two types of insurance to consider: General liability will cover any damage done to your home, while workers’ compensation will cover anyone injured on site. If any subcontractors work on your project, you must ensure they are properly insured and licensed as well.

You should also ask if any building permits will need to be attained in order to complete the project.

List Of Previous Clients And Projects

In order to truly get a sense of a contractor’s reputation, it’s always a good idea to request a list of previous clients and projects. You can ask to speak with references from the contractor’s most recent projects in addition to the references you are given, to ensure you have all bases covered and a variety of perspectives.

A contractor you want to work with should be transparent when it comes to their work. You can also ask for photos from previous jobs and request a portfolio so you can see their completed projects.

Detailed Contract

A comprehensive contract is a crucial part of the process of hiring a contractor. The contract serves as a legal document to specify the responsibilities of all parties involved. Once the contractor draws up the details, it will highlight your obligations to each other during the transaction. This document should define the work that will be done as well as the payment process expected, along with any other additional terms.

Traits Of A Good General Contractor

Now that you’ve gone through all of the formalities, it’s time to find out if a contractor is the right fit for you. Determine the traits that you find to be the most important in a prospective contractor. This is someone you will be working with a lot over the duration of your project, and you will want to prioritize the key traits that you mesh with and trust the most.

Positive Local Reputation

Finding out your contractor’s local reputation is key to getting a glimpse into what your working relationship will be like. This goes hand in hand with word-of-mouth recommendations and receiving the list of previous clients and projects. In addition to this, make sure the contractor has good standing with other local professionals and research online reviews. You want to make sure you see the bigger picture before committing to working with them.

Strong Communication Skills

Strong communication skills are essential to working with any contractor. Miscommunication is often the top reason projects go awry. You’ll want to make sure your contactor is a good active listener, that they are clear and concise, personable and respectful. This is not only important in their relationship with you, but with the subcontractors and suppliers they work directly with on your project.

Favorable Better Business Bureau (BBB) Rating

Another source to turn to for valuable information on your prospective contactor’s ratings is the Better Business Bureau. The BBB is one of the best resources when it comes to sizing up a business’s performance. This offers insight into whether the business and contractor are trustworthy. Simply review the customer complaints page of your prospective contractor’s profile on the Better Business Bureau website. You can get the inside scoop on the types and frequency of complaints, how they’ve been addressed, and their overall business rating. 


If you have a specific project in mind, you may want to seek a contractor who specializes in that project. A specialty contractor may be responsible for one specific part of your construction project. These specialties may include electrical, woodwork, concrete work, heating and cooling systems, plumbing and more. A contractor who is specialized in a specific task will have the most expertise. If you hire a contractor with a specialization in your specific project, you’ll often find that you can maximize your budget and receive quality work on the task at hand.

How Much Does A General Contractor Charge?

The cost of working with a contractor can vary greatly based on the type of project you have in mind and how extensive it is. There are various types of contracts that contractors prefer to use. When determining a contractor, find out what type they are most likely to provide. A time and materials contract pays the contractor based on the costs of materials, direct labor, and equipment. A fixed price contract limits the contractor to a certain dollar amount regardless of any extra time spent or the resources that may be needed. A cost plus a fee contract initially provides a specific fixed dollar amount; however, adjustments can be made in the case of unforeseen costs that arise during the project.

Typically, the larger and more intense your project is, the more your contractor will charge.

The Bottom Line

Once you follow the above steps on your quest for finding a contractor, you will be well equipped to trust the process and know what works for you. It all comes down to asking the right questions, doing the right background work and research to find the contractor that’s the right fit for you and your project.

Now that you have the knowledge to hire a contractor, check out the Rocket Homes® article on establishing a renovation budget before you start working with your contractor.

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    Samantha Bryant

    Samantha Bryant is a freelance writer covering all topics related to lifestyle and homes. Samantha attended the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication. In her spare time, she loves to travel and globetrot the world with her family.