Aside from deciding on the specifics of a project and coming up with the financing, the biggest challenge for most homeowners is finding a reliable and affordable contractor. While there may be no shortage of good residential contractors, knowing which one to hire can be a gamble and feel like an expensive toss of the dice.
But it doesn’t need to be such an uncertain process.
Fortunately, best practices have been established for finding and choosing a residential contractor. There are a number of key considerations when choosing a contractor and anyone can make a smart choice if you follow the right guidelines.
Here are seven tips for getting a great contractor for your next home improvement project:
- Always Start with Recommendations
You might start by asking friends and family. But don’t stop there – check the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) for a list of members in your area. Building inspectors can be a great resource as they will know which contractors are typically recommended in their area. Review sites such as Angie’s List or Diamond Certified can often provide a wealth of information and recommendations, as well.
While referrals and recommendations are definitely valuable sources, don’t give in to the temptation to simply go with the first contractor you find. There’s much more to this scale of decision making.
- Be Sure to Get Bids
Now that you’ve talked to friends, family, and neighbors, it’s time to make some phone calls and ask for bids from your top choices. Get as many bids as you can. If any of the bids you receive seem suspiciously low you may want to eliminate that contractor from your list.
Even though it may be tempting to go with the lowest bid, it’s quite likely that the contractor is in the habit of cutting corners by using cheaper materials or sub-par labor. And you may find that the “value” contractor you hired suddenly finds that your project is actually going to cost more than was initially estimated.
- Verify Licensing Credentials and Referrals
For a contractor, there a number of points you should consider. Look for a contractor who has been in business for at least a few years and one who is licensed and registered according to the regulations in your state. A good rule of thumb is to never hire an un-licensed contractor. If possible, determine if the contractor is insured and, of course, has a good reputation.
This means checking to make sure that they also have a clean bill of health from the Better Business Bureau and from your state’s consumer protection agency. You want to make sure he or she does not have a history of disputes with clients or subcontractors.
- Meet the Contractor in Person
After you have compiled a list of solid referrals and their bids, narrow your list to three or four contractors, if possible, and arrange to meet them in person. This should take place at your home so the contractor can see the project you’re envisioning and be able to answer your questions. This is also an opportunity to determine how easily you can communicate with one another.
It’s important for you to be able to communicate well since this is likely to be a large investment on your part and because the contractor will be in your home for a number of hours, or even days. Because of this you also want to know that you feel comfortable working with this individual.
- Never Choose a Contractor Based on Price
This is where the old maxim, “You get what you pay for.” is particularly true. Unlike a car or new outfit, you can’t simply “return” a poor remodeling job. Quality should trump price. In addition to ensuring value labor, keep in mind that you may be spending a great deal of time working with your choice.
Try to choose the contractor with whom you feel comfortable with their personality, communication style, and business methods as well as the bid offered. A good choice is a balance of all these things. Most importantly, be certain that you are both clear on the details and scope of your project.
- Always Get a Signed Contract
As much as a great referral and handshake matters, you still need a contract. The truth is, both parties are protected this way. There are other reasons for a written, detailed contract, as well. It allows you both to have a plan on paper that includes such details a work timetable, complete with starting and finish dates, a description of the work that will be done, materials to be used, and a payment agreement.
In addition, the contract should provide for such things how any disputes might be addressed and suitable time limits for fixing any mistakes or defects. Peace of mind around remodeling projects goes both ways.
- Agree on a Payment Plan
One expert warns that you should never pay a contractor more than 30 percent upfront. A recommended plan would include a 15 to 20 percent deposit upfront, with periodic payments through the course of the project, and with at least 10 percent to be paid only after the job is completed satisfactorily.
As the client, you do need to be reasonable, however. Your contractor probably needs as much as you can pay throughout the span of the project in order to fund his or her expenses. But by avoiding paying most or all of the estimate in full upfront or before the project is complete is a good way to ensure that the project is done when and how you want it.