Wooden Frame Contractor

How To Hire A Contractor For Your Home Improvement Project

Samantha Bryant8-minute read
June 24, 2021

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Tackling any type of home renovation 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.

The right contractor will be able to handle everything from sourcing materials to completing your home renovation entirely. However, finding a contractor you can trust to bring your vision to life isn’t as easy as you might think.

In this article, we’ll go over how to hire a contractor and what to look for before you make your decision.

How To Hire A Contractor

You have the project in mind and you’re on the hunt for a contractor. So, how can you ensure that you find the right expert for the job? Here’s what you need to know.

Consider Their Specializations

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. Working with a contractor that specializes in the type of project you’re planning will increase the chances of the project getting done quickly and on budget.

Ask The People You Know

You’ll often find that word of mouth recommendations are the most reliable. Ask your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors if they know of any contractors that can help. If you have a trusted real estate professional that you’ve worked with in the past, they may also be able to point you in the right direction. Real estate pros have the 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.

Research Their Reputation

Before you start contacting contractors for estimates, you’ll need to make sure they’re worth your time. Research their reputations by reading online reviews and checking the Better Business Bureau for any complaints or problems their previous clients may have had. If most of the reviews are negative, keep looking.

If most of the reviews are positive, check their business license with your local county or state office and see if there are any outstanding lawsuits or formal complaints in place. If there are, you’ll want to work with a different contractor.

Get Quotes From Several Contractors

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.

Pay attention to the way they treat you when you’re speaking with them. This will give you an idea of what it will be like to work with the contractor should you choose to proceed.

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What To Ask For Before Hiring A Contractor

Before you hire a contractor, you’ll want to take your time to interview each one to make sure they’re the right fit for your project. Before you start talking to each contractor, 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.

Here’s what you need to ask for during those in-person consultations.

Price Estimate

Before you hire anyone, you need to know how much they’ll charge you for their services. That means asking for a firm estimate upfront. Ask each contractor if they’re giving you 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. Remember, you need to choose a contractor that will work with your home renovation budget.

In addition to finding out the type of proposal you should expect to receive, find out what the payment schedule will look like. Ask 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 your project. Once you know how they’ll charge for their services, you’ll be better prepared to find ways to pay for the project.

Contractors should be willing to work with you whether you’re paying in cash or are using a home improvement loan, like a cash-out refinance, to pay for your renovation.

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Project Timeline Estimate

You’ll also need to get an estimate on how long your project will take and each contractor’s anticipated completion date. Ask for a detailed scope of work that will outline how long the project will take and the steps they plan to follow to complete the project. While the exact time frame may vary, the timeline estimate will give you an idea of what you can expect from each contractor.

Licenses And Proof Of Insurance

Any reputable contractor will have a valid business or contractor license and proof of insurance. It’s important that they have both. Add this to your checklist and make sure they provide proof of licensing and insurance. If they don’t or tell you they don’t have a valid license or current insurance coverage, choose a different contractor.

Make Sure They Have The Right Insurance

There are two types of insurance to consider: general liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance. 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 make sure they’re properly insured and licensed as well.

Permit Requirements

Depending on the scope of your project, your county or city may require building permits before you can start work. Before hiring a contractor, make sure you understand who is responsible for securing those permits. The best contractors will take care of getting those permits for you. If a contractor tells you that you’re responsible, you may want to work with a different professional.

List Of Previous Clients

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. Contact the people on this list and ask about their experience working with each contractor. Pay attention to any repeat complaints or problems that they bring up. Remember, the key to hiring a home contractor is to choose one that has a long list of happy clients.

Copy Of Their Portfolio

Any contractor you want to work with should be transparent when it comes to their work. Ask for photos from previous jobs and request a portfolio so you can see their completed projects. See what types of work they’ve done in the past and make sure it aligns with what you’re wanting them to do for your home. If they’ve worked on projects like yours in the past and you’re happy with the way those projects look, they may be worth hiring.

Detailed Contract

A comprehensive contract is a crucial part of the process of hiring a general 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.

The Traits You Need To Look For Before Hiring A Home Contractor

Now that you’ve gone through all the formalities, it’s time to find out if a contractor is the right fit for you. Think about 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. Make sure the contractor has good standing with other local professionals that you may need to work with to complete your project. 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. Make sure your contractor 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 contractor'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. 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.

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 to determine that cost.

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.

If the projects you’re looking to complete are on the pricier side, you may need to look at financing options. One popular option for homeowners who have built up equity in their home is the cash-out refinance or “refi.” Cash-out refis allow homeowners to leverage their equity for substantial cash. Interest rates are typically lower than for many other types of loans, and there’s even the possibility to refinance to a lower interest home loan in the process, if rates are down. If this sounds appealing, why not start the process to get a cash-out-refinance today?

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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.