Choosing a contractor is no small task. The internet is littered with stories of unqualified builders making obvious, and sometimes dangerous, mistakes while working on clients’ homes. That’s why it’s important to take the time to thoroughly vet potential candidates before picking a contractor.
We've put together a step-by-step checklist for hiring contractors so you can find the best possible partner(s) for your project. With these expert tips from BuildZoom and Invest Four More's Mark Ferguson, you’ll have everything you need to kick off your search.
Contractors are generally not one-size-fits-all. Depending on how big or complex the job is, you may need someone with either a broad set of skills or a very narrow focus.
Ask Friends and Family
When hiring a contractor for a home renovation or something similar, you should always start with the people whose opinions you trust most. No, we’re not talking about Bob Vila or Tim “The Tool-Man” Taylor, but rather your friends and family. Ask if they would recommend the contractors they’ve hired to work on their own homes.
Pro Tip: If someone recommends a contractor to you, ask to see the work they did so you can determine the quality firsthand.
Check Review Sites
Review sites are a quick and relatively accurate way to assess a contractor’s reliability. Some of the more popular sites include:
Mark Ferguson also suggests visiting home improvement stores in your area to find local contractors. “We have found numerous contractors through Home Depot Pro desk. They are not supposed to recommend anyone, but they will tell us who comes in a lot.”
Double-Check Licensing and Qualification Requirements
There are numerous directories, databases and departments you can use to learn about your state’s licensing requirements for contractors. These include:
All of the contractors you meet should be able to produce a valid contractor’s license, as well as provide proof of insurance (if required by your state). Never hire a contractor who is not properly licensed or insured or you could be held liable for any worker injuries that occur on your property.
Once you have a list of potential contractors to hire, set up time to go over your project with each of them. Some basic questions to ask include:
BuildZoom also recommends asking these questions about your contractor's background and process:
- How long have you been in business and do you have a contracting license?
- Who is the foreman and team for this project?
- Who will pull the permits and set up inspections for this job?
- How will we deal with curveballs or any disagreements that may arise?
After interviewing your candidates, request a formal bid from each one. These should include a complete price estimate, timeline for project completion and a thorough outline of every aspect of the job. You want at least three bids for your project so you have a decent range of prices to consider before hiring a contractor.
"We try to get just one bid per contractor so we do not waste their time. However, newer investors will want to get multiple bids. I like to see bids that are easy to read and break down the costs into the major jobs needed."
Mark Ferguson | Invest Four More
Very low bidders will probably cut corners, whereas very high bidders are probably pretty busy but will take on your project if you pay a bit more. Sasha David of BuildZoom has a few tips to help you negotiate a better price:
“Meet with the contractors and negotiate in person, not over the phone. You can explain that you would like to move forward with them, but the quote is a little beyond what you expected and can afford to pay. Another approach is to let the contractor know you have another bid that is X dollars lower than theirs, and ask if there’s a way to get closer to that number.”
After choosing a contractor, write up a contract that specifies what is to be completed and when. Your contract should also stipulate all of these items:
With this step-by-step checklist, you’ll be able to find and hire the right contractor for your project. Even better, you’ll be able to plan future home improvement jobs knowing you already have a reliable partner lined up. Maybe you’ll even recommend them to your friends and family.
Have any other tips on how to hire a contractor? Let us know in the comments below.