How to Find a Good Contractor

Finding the right contractor for your home improvement or construction project can seem daunting, but doing your research and asking the right questions can help ensure a successful partnership. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to find a reliable, skilled contractor that fits your project’s needs and budget.

Define Your Project Scope and Needs

Before starting your contractor search, clearly define the parameters of your project. This includes:

The Type of Work Required

  • What needs to be built, renovated, or repaired? Be as detailed as possible.
  • Do you need a general contractor who oversees the entire job, or specialists for plumbing, electrical, etc.?

Your Budget

  • Get estimates from builders and architects. Factor in contingency costs.
  • Create a budget with low, medium, and high ranges. Be clear what falls into each range.

Your Timeline

  • How soon would you like the project completed? Be realistic.
  • Are there stages with deadlines, like completing a kitchen remodel before hosting holiday parties?

Your Design Preferences

  • Do you have a clear vision for the finished product? If not, are you open to designer suggestions?
  • What is your aesthetic style? Provide examples of colors, finishes, etc. you prefer.

With detailed project specs in hand, you are ready to start researching contractors. Cast a wide initial net in your search, then narrow it down using the criteria below.

Ask Friends and Neighbors for Referrals

Speaking with people you know and trust is one of the best ways to find contractors to consider. Ask the following questions:

  • Were they pleased with the contractor’s work and professionalism?
  • Was the project completed on time and within budget?
  • How did the contractor communicate throughout the process?
  • Would they hire this company again?

Drive around your neighborhood and jot down the names on work trucks, signs, and job sites that catch your eye to call about potential referrals.

Check Review Websites

Online house contractor review sites like HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, and Houzz feature customer ratings and reviews of home renovation pros in your area. Research companies and read feedback from previous clients. Look for red flags like low ratings, photos of poor work, or mentions of unreliable business practices.

Verify Licenses and Certifications

Reputable contractors should hold current licenses required by your state or locality. The specific licenses needed may vary based on the type and size of your job. Ask to see a contractor’s license, check that it is up to date, and verify its legitimacy on your state contractor’s licensing board website.

Professionally certified contractors have demonstrated specialized skills and knowledge. Look for respected certifications like these:

  • Remodeling: National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI)
  • Electrical: National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA)
  • Plumbing: United Association (UA)
  • HVAC: North American Technician Excellence (NATE)

Look at Relevant Industry Associations

Many contractors are members of professional trade organizations and local chambers of commerce relevant to their field. Search websites of associations like:

  • National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)
  • National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA)
  • National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP)

Membership indicates an ongoing commitment to education and professionalism.

Check Qualifications at the Better Business Bureau

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) allows you to look up ratings for contractors and read details on complaints or issues raised against them. This provides insight into their reputation. Be wary of companies with low BBB ratings or a large number of complaints.

Interview Prospects Extensively

Sit down with at least three potential contractors for in-depth interviews and project walkthroughs. Come prepared with your detailed project scope documents and a list of questions. Key questions to ask include:

About Their Business

  • How long have you been in business? Look for 5+ years in business as a good sign.
  • Are you licensed, insured, and bonded? Verify details.
  • Can you provide references from recent projects? Call references.
  • What professional organizations do you belong to?

About Your Specific Project

  • Have you completed similar projects recently? Ask for pictures.
  • How will you approach the planning and execution of the project?
  • How will you communicate with me throughout all phases?
  • Will you handle securing permits? Who oversees code compliance?

About Their Reputation

  • How many projects do you take on at once? Too many can be a red flag.
  • Do you finish jobs on time and within budget?
  • What happens if the project goes over budget? How will you communicate this?
  • What warranties do you provide on workmanship and materials?

About Project Costs

  • Can you provide a detailed, written estimate and project timeline?
  • What invoice payment schedule do you follow? (Avoid large upfront deposits.)
  • What change order process do you follow if costs increase or I want modifications?

Pay attention to how responsive they are, how clearly they communicate, and how comfortable you feel with them. Your gut reaction matters.

Check References Thoroughly

Do not skip checking contractor references! Ask previous customers:

  • Did the contractor show up on time and keep you updated on schedule changes?
  • Was the contractor easy to communicate with?
  • Did they maintain a clean job site and treat your home respectfully?
  • Were there any disputes about costs or changes? If so, how were they resolved?
  • Was the final project completed to your satisfaction within the contracted budget and timeline?

Any hesitancy or negative answers are warning signs.

Ask for a Detailed Written Estimate

A reputable contractor should provide a written itemized estimate free of charge. Get proposals from several contractors and compare. Beware very low bids that seem too good to be true. Key estimate essentials:

  • Clearly defined scope of work
  • All costs broken down line-by-line
  • Types of materials to be used
  • Timeline with project milestones
  • Payment installment schedule
  • Any warranties provided

Review the fine print thoroughly and ask questions until you understand all aspects. Do not feel pressured to sign on the spot.

Look for the Right Experience Fit

Find a contractor with expertise that aligns with your specific project type and scale. You want someone who regularly handles projects similar to yours. Ask:

  • How much experience do you have with projects like mine?
  • Can I see examples of past work (photos or visit a job site)?
  • Is my project size in your typical wheelhouse? Too small or large projects are red flags.

Specialty work like masonry may require more niche or custom skillsets.

Confirm They Are Insured

The contractor you hire should carry both general liability insurance and workers compensation insurance. This protects you from liability if an accident happens on your property or a worker gets injured on the job.

Request copies of current certificates showing adequate insurance policy limits for a company their size. Call the insurance providers to verify coverage.

Trust Your Gut

Listen to your intuition during the research and interview process. Some signs a contractor may not be the right fit:

  • They pressure you to sign a contract before you are ready.
  • They do not give clear, detailed responses to questions.
  • They seem to have an overloaded workload or rush you.
  • References have hesitations or cannot be reached.
  • They ask you to obtain permits yourself.

Go with a contractor you genuinely connect with and who demonstrates transparency plus excellent communication and organizational skills.

Verify Their Availability

During contractor interviews, discuss timelines. Try to gauge their workload based on:

  • How soon could they start your project? Busy contractors may be booked out several months.
  • How much time do they have to dedicate to your job? Make sure they can give you the focus needed.
  • How many other projects will they be managing simultaneously? Too many can affect quality.

Ideally, find a contractor who can start within your desired timeframe and give your job proper time and attention from start to finish. Communicate all scheduling needs upfront.

Sign a Detailed Written Contract

Before work begins, finalize a formal contract with your chosen contractor. This legally documents the project’s specifications to avoid misunderstandings. Your contract should include:

  • Contractor’s full name and contact information
  • Project start date and completion deadline
  • Full project scope and specifications
  • All materials to be used
  • Total price with payment installment schedule
  • Process for change orders and overages
  • Insurance and bond information
  • Contingency plans for delays, such as weather
  • Dispute resolution process
  • Cleanup responsibilities
  • Warranties provided on work

Read the contract thoroughly before signing. Never pay more than 10% upfront. Include contingency plans and an outline of what constitutes breach of contract. For large jobs, have an attorney review the document.

Maintain Open Communication

Clear, ongoing communication ensures you and your contractor stay aligned throughout the building process. Have regular check-ins via phone, email, or in person. Quickly address any concerns that arise. Be proactive by:

  • Discussing progress at each milestone
  • Getting updates if work falls behind schedule
  • Reviewing any needed change orders and new costs
  • Confirming next steps frequently
  • Providing payment promptly at each installment date

Good contractors will initiate frequent contact themselves and keep you looped in on their work. Reply promptly if they need input or decisions from you to avoid holdups.

Visit the Job Site Often

Plan to stop by the job site regularly to visually inspect progress and workmanship. Watch for any issues like:

  • Messy, uncontained work area
  • Damage to your property
  • Improper use of materials
  • Work not level, plumb, or square
  • Inferior quality installations
  • Construction debris left lying around

Raise any concerns immediately and take photos if appropriate. Good contractors will welcome your site visits and feedback.

Do Not Make Full Payment Until the Job is Complete

Only make your final payment once the project has passed final inspection and you are fully satisfied. Avoid paying 100% upfront or at an early milestone. Negotiate contract payment terms wisely by:

  • Paying 10-25% down to fund startup costs
  • Making installments throughout based on set milestones
  • Paying the majority upon satisfactory final completion
  • Agreeing to a small retainment amount (like 5%) for 30 days to ensure no issues arise

Withholding the final payment gives you leverage to ensure all details are handled properly.

Secure Lien Waivers Before Making Final Payment

A lien waiver is a legal document signed by your contractor confirming they and any subcontractors have been paid in full for their services. This protects you if any claims or liens are later filed against your property by unpaid suppliers or laborers.

Never make the last payment until you have received lien waivers from your general contractor and any major subcontractors verifying their bills are paid off.

Be Reasonable with Modification Requests

Scope creep can derail your budget and timeline. Try to lock down all details upfront to avoid excessive change orders. When requesting modifications, be reasonable by:

  • Not making changes at the last minute that require redoing major work
  • Limiting alteration requests to items that truly justify the time and cost impacts
  • Agreeing to added expenses from start to finish rather than negotiating upcharges item by item
  • Updating your contract to reflect adjustments in timeline or budget

Stay flexible but avoid nitpicking modifications that strain your relationship.

Provide an Accurate Review

Once your project is done, take time to provide fair, honest feedback on contractor review sites like HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List. Your insights help future homeowners. Be factual and constructive. Give an accurate portrayal of:

  • Quality of work
  • Professionalism
  • Ability to stay within budget
  • Responsiveness to concerns
  • Timeliness in completing the job
  • How well they communicated with you

Keep emotions out of it and emphasize what went right alongside constructive criticisms. Avoid overly negative reviews for just minor issues if the overall job went well.

Finding the right contractor does not need to be a headache or source of stress. Following the guidelines above helps you hire a professional you can trust to bring your vision to life. Take your time researching and evaluating options to ensure you select someone truly qualified for the job who meshes well with your expectations and style. With an organized, communicative contractor secured, you can look forward to achieving beautiful finished results and a smoother-running home improvement experience.

Frequently Asked Questions About Finding a Good Contractor

Hiring the right contractor for your project involves evaluating many elements. Here are answers to some common questions homeowners have while searching for the perfect contractor match:

How do I verify a contractor’s license?

A contractor’s license can be verified by checking with your state licensing board. Search for the licensing board website, then look up the contractor by name or license number to confirm the license is active and in good standing.

What questions should I ask contractor references?

Key questions to ask any contractor’s references include: Was the project completed on time and within budget? Was communication frequent and clear? How were any issues or disputes resolved? Would you hire them again? Listen for any hesitations.

What should I include in my project scope document for contractors?

A detailed project scope document should provide an overview of your job including the type of work needed, your timeline, budget ranges, design tastes, complete specs, and what finishes, materials, colors you prefer. The more details the better.

What are red flags to watch for when interviewing contractors?

Red flags include very low bids compared to other estimates, inability to provide references, lack of clear communication, resistance to questions, requests for large down payments, and inability to show proof of proper insurance and licensing.

How can I check that a contractor’s insurance is valid?

To validate insurance, ask to see official certificates of insurance. Call the insurance company directly using the certificate contact information to confirm current coverage amounts with them.

How much should I budget for contingency costs?

It is wise to add 10-20% on top of your contractor’s total bid to allow for contingencies or unexpected overages. This provides a buffer if minor additional work arises or material costs come in higher.

What should be included in a home renovation contract?

A thorough renovation contract outlines the full project scope, timeline, price structure, payment installment schedule, change order process, contingency plans for delays, insurance and bond documentation, dispute guidelines, cleanup duties, and warranties provided.

What percentage should the down payment on a renovation be?

Down payments around 10-25% of the total contract price are typical for home renovation projects. Avoid paying more upfront. Make subsequent installments tied to work milestones before a final payment upon completion.

I hope this comprehensive guide provides the insights and tips needed to effectively evaluate and hire the ideal contractor for your next construction or remodeling project. Let me know if you have any other questions!