Hiring a contractor

Tape measure and square on a workbench
Okay, you’re ready to remodel that old 1980’s kitchen. You know it’s something you can’t do yourself even if you wanted to. You’ve done enough research to know you’re going need multiple resources, a plumber, an electrician and a carpenter. To get this done right, you’re going to need a good contractor. Before you panic, here are the things you need to know about hiring a contractor:

Do your research

It’s important to have a very clear idea of what you want. What is your vision? Between the internet and the sales associate at your local building supply store, it’s possible to put together a detailed picture of what you’d like to see in everything from layout and design, to the specific materials you’d like to use. Your research should be thorough enough to give you a good idea of the rough cost of the project and a range of prices you can expect to pay for various materials.

Get multiple bids

With research in hand you’re ready to put your project out to bid. You owe it to yourself to get a minimum of 3 bids. The bidding process will give you, not just estimated costs, but a clear sense of how a potential contractor will manage your project. This is an opportunity to see just how responsive, organized, even meticulous they are. How quickly do they respond and what questions do they ask?

Check references

While price may be the bottom line, it’s no substitute for knowledge and expertise. A good contractor will have experience in a wide range of projects and be able to provide references specific to the kind of work you’re looking for.

This is your chance to ask questions: How long have you been in business? How many people do you employ? What subcontractors do you rely on? Where do you get your materials? Have there been any lawsuits in the past, and are there any currently pending? The answers to these questions will give you a clear idea of the contractor’s business acumen and overall stability.

Don’t rely solely on a contractor’s references alone. Get online and start Googling, check with the Better Business Bureau and chat up your friends on Facebook. In talking with referrals, ask about the process, not just how the work turned out. What were the bumps in the road and how were they resolved?


A good contractor will have a minimum of a million dollars in liability insurance as well as workman’s compensation for their employees. Verify that coverage is currently in place.

State licenses and permits

A contractor should be licensed so that he can acquire the building, electrical or other required permits needed for the project.

Understand what you’re paying for

In reviewing a detailed proposal ask how costs were determined. A good contractor will generally use a software program as required by insurance companies to determine repair and replacement costs.

Look at each line item carefully. There should be a breakdown of labor, materials and any other additional fees. Ask if there is a “cap” on additional costs. Lastly, be clear regarding what cash outlay is necessary to begin work and to ensure work progresses. You should not be expected to make final payment until work is completed.

Resolving differences

With any large project, something is bound to go wrong. Any good contractor will have faced one challenge or another over materials, with subcontractors and with previous customers. Ask how they’ve handled and resolved these issues.

The Contract

You’ve selected a contractor and you’re presented with a contract. Read the contract carefully! It’s important that you understand your responsibilities before you sign any contract. Again, ask questions. If you don’t understand something and don’t feel that it’s been sufficiently explained, consult a lawyer. What are the consequences of default? Who is responsible for money owed? The last thing you want is to be liable for material, labor or other expenses that you assumed you’d already paid for. How long is work guaranteed? Most contractors will cover repair or replacement costs up to a year after completion.

Get a start and end date in writing

Chance are something will go wrong. An order delayed, a subcontractor who doesn’t come through. After all, you can’t control everything – even the weather can affect your overall schedule. Having a reasonable stated timeframe will make it easier to be flexible when something does come up.

Now that you’ve done your due diligence, and you’re ready to sign, work out the smaller details. Where will trucks park? Will the contractor provide a portable toilet? Confirm that the contractor and his crew will clean up the site on a daily basis. Be sure to do your own part as well. Make progress payments on time, and stay close and in constant communication until the job is complete.

Choosing a good contractor isn’t just about trusting your gut. With a little work upfront and by asking the right questions, you can find great work at a price you’ll be glad to pay.

For more information see the FTC Consumer Information on hiring a contractor click here

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