So, you’ve decided that you want to renovate, but it’s too big of a job for you to DIY. So you need to hire a contractor, but how do you find the right one? While a good contractor can turn your dream home into a reality, a bad one can turn your life into a nightmare.
An inexperienced contractor can get in over their head and create a dangerous situation for you and your family. Or a scam artist can steal your money and leave without a trace before doing any work. These are very common situations that you can avoid if you hire the right person.
Here are some tips to help you pick the contractor that is just right for you.
Search & Research
Before you decide to hire someone, doing your homework is a must. Most people will start by looking at reviews online, which is a good idea. Go ahead and read reviews from several different sites like Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Google, and more.
This will allow you to start making a list of contractors in the area, but you shouldn’t trust all online reviews, and you shouldn’t stop there. Ask your friends and family for referrals. If you are friendly with the neighbors, ask them too. If you hear people say positive things about a contractor, add him or her to the list.
But you’re not done yet. Ask the fine people who work at your local hardware store or lumberyard for referrals too. They can give you the inside gossip about which contractors buy cheap materials and which ones always pay their bills on time.
Interview & Review
With your list of top candidates in hand, give each of them a call and pay attention to how easy it is to communicate with them. While you are talking to them about the project, make sure to ask them the following questions:
- What are your credentials and experience (and your subcontractor’s)?
Even if you already found out a bit about a general contractor from your research, you may not know how long they have been working with their employees and subcontractors. You don’t want a contractor that just hires subcontractors off the street and leaves the work to them.
- Are you licensed & insured?
It is essential to ensure a contractor is licensed and insured before you let them start working on your house. You may know someone with a truck full of tools, who tells you they can do whatever a licensed contractor can do, but you won’t have the same legal protections with them as you would with a licensed contractor.
Specifically, make sure they have workman’s compensation and general liability insurance. Also, make sure they don’t have complaints filed against them or a history of disputes with clients. And don’t just take their word for it, verify they are telling the truth with the state license board, the state’s consumer protection agency, and your local Better Business Bureau.
- Are you able to take on a project of this size now?
Not all contractors can take on every kind of project. You want to make sure your project is in the contractor’s wheelhouse. Just because they did a good job building your neighbor’s deck doesn’t mean they know how to renovate a full kitchen.
Some contractors also have multiple projects going on at once, and you want them to focus on yours. However, don’t drop a contractor just because they can’t start right away, the best ones are usually busy.
- Can you give me a list of your previous clients?
This is especially important if you were not able to get referrals from lots of people you trust. However, it is a good idea to call a few of their previous clients even if you already have references from people you trust. Previous clients could have valid complaints about a contractor that you wouldn’t find out about otherwise.
Now you should have your list narrowed down to a handful of contractors. You’re going to want to meet with them at the site and explain what you want them to do. Things will be easier if you have a clear idea about what you want, stand your ground, and only entertain the suggestions you really like. Remember: projects can get expensive when you start changing things.
Make sure to get multiple bids even if you already made up your mind about which contractor you are going with. This will allow you to compare their bids, which might come in handy when you are negotiating prices later down the line.
Now that you picked the contractor that is just right for you, you’ll want to write up a contract that you feel comfortable with. This should include a payment schedule, proof of liability insurance and compensation payments, specific materials, and a start and end date for the project.
The bottom line is: a contractor is going to spending a lot of time in your house, making noise and spreading dust. If the dust settles, and you’re left with nothing but an expensive pile of garbage, you’ll wish you had taken the time to find a better contractor.