When you hire a contractor, you’re trusting them to fix or build what matters most in your home. Ideally, you’re looking for a professional who’s licensed and insured without sacrificing affordability and craftsmanship. But with all the excitement and moving parts that accompany a new construction project, it can be tempting to hastily sign a contract with the first contractor you like. To avoid getting scammed out of your dream build, we’ve compiled a contractor hiring checklist to help you better understand how to hire a contractor and what to know before signing on the dotted line.
Why Hire a Professional Contractor?
If you’re looking to hire a contractor for a remodeling project, you probably have a sense of urgency. The sooner you can get the job done, the faster you can enjoy your new kitchen, bathroom, deck, or other home improvement project. But before we dive into our list, it’s important to know why a professional contractor is a better choice than a handyman.
Professional contractors are skilled, trained, and experienced in the construction trades. They also have business licenses and insurance for liability, worker’s compensation, property damage, and other items that protect you from financial risk.
In short, consulting a professional contractor can save you time, money, and frustration.
With that out of the way, below is a list of top tips on how to hire a contractor that will help ensure a successful project with (hopefully) no regrets.
1. Get Recommendations
The first step when hiring a contractor is to ask around for recommendations from family, friends, or neighbors you trust. Once you have some names, check out each contractor’s online reviews and ratings on websites like Angi, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Wondering how to verify a contractor’s license? Check with your local consumer protection agency or licensing board to make sure the contractor doesn’t have any unresolved complaints or outstanding violations.
2. Get Examples of Past Projects
Once you find a list of contractors who seem suitable for your project, reach out to them and ask for three recent clients with projects similar to yours. Find out whether those past customers were satisfied with the work and whether they would hire the contractor again.
Hiring a contractor is similar to hiring an employee. You need to find someone who is competent and trustworthy, and you want to make sure they’re a good fit for both you and your project. We’ve all heard stories about the homeowner whose contractor took off with the down payment or didn’t finish the job, leaving a half-built room. Researching a contractor’s project history, certifications, and client success rate can help you avoid these types of experiences.
3. Conduct Phone Interviews
Once you’ve found a few trusted contractors that seem like a good fit for you and your project, the next helpful step is to set up a phone interview to get a better idea of their working style and demeanor.
Hiring a contractor isn’t just about the work they do — you want to make sure they’re someone you’ll enjoy working with. After all, the average home remodel can take anywhere from 3 to 4 months to complete, and larger home projects can take even longer to complete.
Once you’ve completed your preliminary interview, whittle down the list to two or three contractors who seem suitable.
4. Get an Estimate
Once you feel like you’ve got a solid list of contractors you’d like to work with, the next step is to get estimates from each one. Estimates are usually free and provide a ballpark figure of the total cost. To determine an estimate, the contractor will take into consideration the needs of your project, how long it will take, and whether or not they’ll need to hire subcontractors.
If you’re satisfied with the estimate, have checked with the contractor’s references, and have ensured they have the proper licenses and insurance, you’re ready to speak about the project in detail — face to face.
5. Meet Face-to-Face
When hiring a contractor to perform major work on your home, you want to make sure you choose the right person. Otherwise, that “dream” remodeling project could turn into a nightmare.
Always meet your contractors face-to-face before hiring them. During that meeting, see if you can get details about everything included in the price, such as materials and labor. Ask what constitutes change orders (if additional work is needed) and who gets to approve them. Discuss payment schedules and how long the work will take before signing a contract or making the final payment.
Doing your due diligence to get as much sorted out before it’s time to sign a contract can remove a lot of stress for you and your contractor on the big day.
6. Set a Payment Schedule
At this point in the how-to-hire a contractor vetting process, it’s time to talk about a payment schedule. Remember, when planning a home remodeling project, you don’t just hand them the keys to your home and walk away. You need to understand what your contractor will do, how they’ll do it, and when they typically prefer to get paid.
A detailed payment schedule should be included in the contract. The schedule should cover each phase of the job and list the corresponding payment amounts for each phase. Set up a payment schedule based on milestones or completed portions of the project, rather than periods. This ensures that you don’t pay for work that isn’t completed or for time that wasn’t spent working on your project.
Next, talk with your contractor about how they handle holdbacks. A holdback is the last payment you make to the contractor once all work is completed and inspected. A holdback gives you leverage to ensure that the contractor completes any necessary punch-list items or additional work needed once the job is finished. It also protects you if there are any warranty issues after completion of the job.
State laws vary regarding what percentage of the final payment can be withheld as a holdback. Check with your local government office to find out what your state requires.
While it’s important to discuss payment schedules and holdbacks before signing a contract, you also want to make sure they’re covered in the contract when you do go to sign it. Remember, if it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist.
7. Make Sure Everything Is in Writing
So, you’ve found the right contractor for your project, vetted them for credentials, and heard how great they are from previous clients. All in all, you’ve done your homework and are ready to sign a contract. But before you sign on the dotted line, it’s important to have a general understanding of what should go into your home remodeling or repair contract.
Just because you have an estimate doesn’t mean that’s the price you’ll be charged. And just because you spoke about the details of the project and have it on the good authority of a handshake, doesn’t mean the words exchanged are legally binding.
Before any project, the most important step in how to hire a contractor is to get a written contract detailing all of the work they’ll perform and the materials they will use. If nothing else, a signed contract protects both parties and minimizes any arguing about who agreed to what at the start of the project.
What should a home improvement contract include? It should be specific enough to cover everything you’ve discussed with the contractor, and should include, but is not necessarily limited to:
- The contractor’s full name and any subcontractors who will be working on your project.
- A detailed scope of work, including brand names and product numbers.
- Start date, completion date, total cost, payment schedule, and payment upon completion.
- How will change orders be handled?
- Who is responsible for pulling permits?
- Who is responsible for clean-up?
- What warranty is provided?
By the end of the process, both you and your contractor should feel confident that you’ve made the best decision possible in your situation.
A Trusted Contractor Is Your Friend
When understanding how to hire a contractor, all of the upfront “detective” work and stats about contractor scams can make you feel like it’s you versus them. But a good contractor is on your side. They’re your friend through the process, and while they’re working for you, it’s important to treat them with respect, as they are the professionals on the job.
While a contract will help both parties stay on track throughout the repair or remodeling process, it’s important to remember that unforeseen events like supply chain issues can happen, and seldom do any projects go exactly as planned. A good contractor will make you aware of issues as they arise, have a series of plan Bs in place when they do, and work with you to get the most out of the process for both parties involved.