10 Step Guide To Hiring A Top Notch Contractor

10 Step Guide To Hiring A Top Notch Contractor

By:  Kenneth Wilson

10 Actionable Steps

20,000+ Projects Managed

9 Hours of Research

Countless Readers Helped

Hiring a contractor for any project can be a frustrating & painful experience, and that's hardly the beginning! 

I'm going cover exactly how to vette contractors, and give some tips for managing them... so that your next home improvement project goes smoooooth!

If you follow this guide you are more likely to protect yourself and hire a contractor that does the job so well you want to recommend them to your friends & family.


#1 Where To Find Contractors Eager To Earn Your Business

When hiring contractors, it shouldn’t take long to find one - there are even times when you might be overwhelmed by all the options - yet it still takes up a huge part of the planning process. If this is not your first time hiring a professional, then you know what I’m talking about. You’ve probably had a handful of contractors who didn’t call back, took too long to respond, or didn’t show up on the day of the estimate.

One of the reasons you keep ending up with contractors like those is because you’re not looking for a professional who is eager to earn your business. Don’t chase them, especially since in the first place, you shouldn’t be having a hard time getting in touch with contractors who you could be working with in the future.

That's why I recommend HomeAdvisor. Since all contractors on this platform pay for the opportunity to earn your business, they will work hard to earn it. You won’t have to worry about them not being able to do something as basic as answering your calls and showing up on the day of the estimate. 

You can also further determine who is really eager to earn your business when you’re discussing your project with contractors. Whether it’s a phone call, text message, or email, check how they respond to your questions and inquiries. If they seem excited and interested in your project, replies professionally and respectfully, and directly answers your questions without giving you the run-around, then they genuinely want your business.

(You Can Come Back Here After)

What You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor!

Contractors are not dishonest.  

The general consensus is that 'contractors are dishonest'.  You can see plenty of examples of  this in the Home Improvement Cents community on facebook. 

Here's what one member of our community had to say about honest contractors...

If contractors aren't dishonest why do these issues come up consistently?  Because these homeowners go with 'tradesmen' not 'businessmen'.  Yes the contractors they hire are technically self employed, but they are fundamentally tradesman that do not understand business, costs and customer expectations.  

Following this guide will show you how to filter out those types of contractors.  Also using HomeAdvisor, tends to get a better pool of contractors.

So here we go...

#2 Check For Reputation

As mentioned before, hiring contractors can be a difficult task since it requires research. Never settle for the first good ad that comes your way because this is not proof that a contractor will do quality work.

If possible, check with your family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers who’ve had home renovation work done. Whether they do have information to share or not, always double-check the contractor’s reputation online. You can head on to their website, Google Business profile, social media pages, or other trusted online business review sites.

Find out if they have real and plenty of good reviews because this will indicate that they care about their reputation. If they do, then they probably take those online reviews and feedback into account and correct things to make their business better.

#3 Verify Insurance Coverage.

There's 3 types of insurance coverage you need to check for...

#1 General Liability.  This would cover obscure incidents on your property like a ladder falling over and breaking your window. 

#2 Workers Compensation.  This covers the highest potential risk, risk to employees working on your property.  In many states if the contractor is uninsured or unlicensed employees are legally able to pursue damages from the homeowner.  Don't get caught there.

#3 Commercial Auto Insurance.  Yes auto insurance.  Here's the deal, this gives you insight into whether the contractor is self-performing or subbing their work.  Contractors with company vehicles are typically performing the work in-house commanding a higher level of quality.  It also covers some events which happen frequently like running into your garage door (happens all the time, and garage doors ain't cheap).  

Don't just rely on 'words' for proof.  You need to see actual insurance certificates and verify that they are current!  Contractors should have no problem providing these documents.  A few contractors that I have worked with even make them available right on their website.  

#4 Verify A Real Physical Office.

While checking for the contractor’s reputation, you should also verify if they have a real physical office. Do a quick check of their business address and find out if it’s an office space or building and not a house.

Google Maps - Desktop

To do this, head on to Google Maps and type in their business address. You can do this on the computer or use the mobile app. Change the view to the Satellite option (in photo: 1 for desktop and 5 for mobile) or browse Street View images (in photo: 2 for desktop and 3 or 6 in mobile) and verify if the location is an office space or a house.

Note: To view options 5 and 6, click number 4 on mobile.

Google Maps - Mobile

You want to work with a contractor who has a real physical office that you can walk in during business hours. So if ever you need to discuss something with them, you know where to find their office. This also shows their professionalism and that they have a physical facility for their tools, materials, and equipment, which they will use when working on your project.


#5 List Down Your Project Specifics.

Make a list of everything that you need to include in your estimates for ‘apples to apples’ comparison. The list should at least include the materials you expect to be used, permit responsibility, project timeline, and working schedule. 

Determine the materials that you want to use for your home improvement project. If you don’t have any idea, you can check out home design magazines, look at online home improvement stores, visit home improvement centers, or discuss with family and friends who have done similar renovations. I suggest including a budget for the required materials that will be chosen at a later date.

It’s also better if you learn more about the requirements for home improvement projects. Find out if your project will require permits, surveying, or engineering, and what regulations need to be followed? You should also determine who will be responsible for acquiring them. Even if your contractor will be responsible for obtaining permits, there’s nothing wrong with knowing more about this process. Don’t be afraid to also ask for information so you have an idea of what goes on in this part of the project.

Don’t forget to include the project time frame on your list. This means giving them your expected project duration, but not setting it in stone. Delays can happen for circumstances beyond your contractor’s control (more details about this in the next section). It’s just better for you to have a timeline outlined and see if they can accommodate it.

Aside from the start and end date of the project, your list should also include the working schedule. You can suggest the days of the week they can work, what time of the day they can start, and when they should pack up. This will help you determine how your everyday life will adjust around the project and the best time your contractor can work without altering too much of your daily schedule. 

  • Pro tip: Hire an architect or engineer beforehand to draft the project. They are trained and licensed professionals who can help you during the planning, designing, and construction process. They can even turn your concept and vision into blueprints for contractors to follow as well as provide approximate costs.

#6 Understand That There Will Be Variances

If you didn’t have a professional scope of work done, understand that there may be miscommunications and allow for variances to price and timeline. That’s why you should have it done, to clarify what the contractor will do, determine the budget or cost of the materials, and finalize the list you have in the previous section. 

You can also ask what’s not included in their scope of work or which materials would cost extra. If you think that materials or jobs are part of the package, but is actually an upgrade, this would lead to extra costs. It’s better to clearly communicate this with your contractor to avoid conflicts, sudden changes, price increase, and delays.

Besides miscommunication, I’ve mentioned before that there can also be circumstances or problems which can delay project completion. Even after agreeing on the scope of the project, unforeseen events or weather changes may prevent your contractor from working. 

Be aware that this is beyond their control, so the best thing you could do is discuss how to deal with changes, both unexpected and expected. There could also be changes deemed necessary, such as suddenly discovering dry rot which will affect the project timeline and cost. 

For change orders, you’re fortunate if you have found a contractor who agrees to a ‘change of mind’ despite the headaches that it would bring. Always get it in writing as well as have change provisions when there is additional work to be done, such as the price, cost of suddenly changing plans, and timeline change. 

#7 Have A Written Completion Deadline

Aside from the scope of work, you should also ask the contractor what their deadline is and put it in writing. Don’t push the deadline, but let the contractor decide it. If you force an unreasonable deadline, they might agree and commit to something unrealistic just to make a sale. You basically just want a flag in the ground.

Keep in mind that they will probably have a better estimate of the deadline since they will know how much time each task will take. But in the end, you and your contractor should agree on when the project will start and end. 

#8 Make Systematic Check-Ups

It’s best to follow up weekly while progress is ongoing. Even if the project is going smoothly, you should still ask your contractor for updates. You could do a progress call every other day while things are happening on site. Ask them if there are any time-consuming issues or concerns. Remember to keep discussions short. Don’t engage them in lengthy interactions so they could remain on schedule.

#9 Have A Checklist For Completion

When your project is almost finished, you should have another list prepared: a checklist for completion. This should include checking general items such as:

Materials

Check if the materials are correct. They should have used the materials you have discussed.

Work

All aspects of the work agreed on have been completed. It should be inspected and approved by you.

Documents

Ask for hard copies of warranties for workmanship and materials. You should also have permits finaled. 

Work area

Take a look around the job site and see if it’s completely clean. It should be cleared and not have any excess materials, tools, and equipment lying around.

You should also check if it is free from damage. Surfaces such as walls and floors you didn’t want to be changed should remain the same. Furniture and other items that couldn’t be moved should be safe and in place.

#10 Be Nice To The Guys Working On Site

When it comes to working with contractors, be nice to the crew working on site. You want to establish a good rapport and create a nice working relationship with them. It can be difficult to find the line between being welcoming and not getting in their way. 

For starters, you can prepare the work area for the crew to make everything go faster and more smoothly. Remove fragile items or anything that can get in the way, so they can get the job done easily and quickly. You could always ask if there is anything they need to help minimize inconveniences.

You should also not get in their way by engaging them in long conversations. Keep your interactions short and don’t hover over them. It’s okay to check-up once in a while, but watching them work the whole time may distract them and affect their output. Don’t be the reason your project is delayed.

It would be great if you can also show them some appreciation. You can do this by simply providing coffee or Red Bull in the morning, and it isn’t uncommon to order them lunch or bake them a snack. Remember that they are people who should also be allowed to use the bathroom upon request as well.

If you encounter any issues, don’t take it out on the guys on site. Save it for the people in the office. When the crews like you, they tend to try to do their best and give the most as opposed to running away and getting the job done quickly. If you have a good working relationship with them, they will tend to do more and make everything work for you as well.

Another way to be appreciative of their good work is by giving them a review online. You’ve found them because a satisfied customer gave them a good review, so why not do the same for their next client? It’s a simple thing you can do that won’t take up much of your time but would mean a lot to the crew and be good for their business.

Ready to get your project rockin-and-rollin?

Start by giving Homeadvisor a shot for finding contractors.

After submitting your quote request, you'll be contacted by a few of their local contractors, eager to be competitive and earn your business -- no obligations!

Kenneth Wilson
October 9, 2020

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done.