Key takeaways:

  • Varied experience can be a big plus in selecting a contractor for a home renovation or repair project.
  • A design-build expert can save time and money on some projects.
  • Licenses are not always signs of a good contractor.

In today’s real estate market, more homeowners are turning to remodeling, addition, and/or repair work in lieu of selling and purchasing a new house. Add in the tight labor market, and finding and hiring a contractor can be fraught with frustration, confusion and even scams. 

Whether you are planning an addition, getting new windows, or simply making some indoor repairs, finding competent and reliable contractors is often the first step in a successful home improvement project. Here are a few strategies to consider when hiring a contractor to help prevent problems and ensure you get the right people to handle your needs.

1.     Get a recommendation if possible. Many good, reliable contractors work only by referral. You may obtain referrals from friends, relatives, business associates or neighbors who have had similar work done.

2.     Pre-qualify. Call the contractors in whom you are interested and do some pre-qualification work. Make sure to find out how long the contractor has been in business; more than five years is generally a good sign.

When reviewing your project with a potential contractor, recognize that varied experience can be very desirable. Even jobs that may seem simple on the surface can actually involve many different types of tasks. For example, a small bathroom remodel could easily involve demolition and removal of existing material, framing, plumbing and electrical work, installation of fixtures, trim, paint and finishing. In some cases, you may need to obtain a permit. A contractor who has the depth and breadth of experience in all aspects of your project will be more cost-effective and time-efficient.

3.     Check it out. Ask each contractor you are considering for the contact information of a few of their satisfied customers. Call them, ask good questions, and, depending on your job, ask to see the contractor’s work. Most people who have recently remodeled or done some major work on their homes are proud to show it off. If they liked their contractor, they often will go out of their way to help them secure another job.

4.     Watch out for the low bid. You’ll want to get written estimates from contractors, but don’t always go for the lowest price. There are many factors to consider, including the fact that it’s almost impossible to predict exact needs and costs for most projects until they are underway. Remember that estimates are exactly that: estimates. Depending on the project, be wary of absolute bids.

If you find that one estimate comes in substantially lower than others, be wary. It’s not always a problem – some contractors may charge less for the opportunity to work on certain projects or in certain areas – but, as with other things in life, if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

5.     Combine forces. For some projects, an individual who can handle both design and building portions of the job can make much more sense from a time and cost standpoint. Accept that you may pay a higher price per hour, or job, for someone who can do both than you would for a pure technical subcontractor. It will pay off in spades over the course of the project. 

6.     Be willing to wait. Good contractors are often busy, prioritize current/ongoing clients, and work new clients into their schedules when they can. 

7.     Find out who will do the actual work and make sure you are comfortable with that person spending time in your home. Subcontractors may be necessary (e.g., many projects call for electricians and plumbers), so just ensure that the contractor has qualified them directly and will supervise and coordinate all work.

8.     Look for warning signs. 

  • Broad estimates. Beware of contractors who don’t want to specify details in a job.
  • The sales job: Be cautious of someone who’s doing too much of a sales job.
  • Responsiveness and timeliness. How a contractor handles an initial inquiry is indicative of what will likely happen later on.
  • Appearance. A contractor with a clean and neat appearance is good, but “too” clean could be a sign that the contractor is not doing the actual work. On the other hand, if an individual is sloppy, chances are good that the work will be sloppy, too.

Your home may be your most valuable financial asset. Treat it with care, and exercise care in hiring someone to work on it. Your diligence will pay off in your house, wallet and sanity.

The blog articles published by Unlock Technologies are available for informational purposes only and not considered legal or financial advice on any subject matter. The blogs should not be used as a substitute for legal or financial advice from a licensed attorney or financial professional. Links in our blog posts to third-party websites are provided as a convenience and are for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement of any products, services or opinions of the corporation, organization or individual. Unlock Technologies bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of external sites or that of subsequent links.