Installing new windows, remodeling your kitchen, repairing your roof …
There are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of home contractors in every city with the skills to do major home renovations. And as complicated as the renovations may be, choosing a contractor to do the work can be just as tricky.
Home remodeling projects, even small ones, can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, so you must choose the right person for the job.
Here’s how to pick the best home contractors for every job. This can help whether you’re installing new floors, upgrading your plumbing, or repainting your bedroom.
Check Online Reviews
The search for a home contractor usually starts online, but you have to know where to look.
Sites like Home Advisor, Angie’s List, the Better Business Bureau, and Yelp are great places to start. These are all review sites, so you can quickly sort through a long list of contractors to find the pros in your area with the best ratings.
When reading online reviews, keep in mind that every contractor is likely to have a few bad ones. The longer they’ve operated, the more likely they will have a few dissatisfied customers.
Just be sure to pay attention to why they got those bad reviews. Look for comments such as “took much longer than expected,” “they left my home a mess,” and “they didn’t complete the job.”
These are the red flags you want to avoid at all costs.
Seek Out Word of Mouth References
If you are close with someone who recently had similar work done in their home, ask them for a reference. A great way to gauge the skills of a contractor is to have someone you trust vouch for their work.
Just be sure to have the contractor give you an estimate before letting them know that a prior client has referred you.
That way, if the estimate seems over-inflated, you can let them know that your friend or neighbor just paid them X amount for a similar project.
Look For Contractors Who Specialize In Your Type of Project
Many contractors have skills in different repair areas. Some roofing contractors install siding. Some house painters install drywall. Some tile installers do plumbing.
Before you hire, be sure the contractor specializes in the exact type of project you’re looking to complete.
When vetting those contractors, ask if they do the work themselves or subcontract it out. It’s vital to know exactly who will be doing the work.
Get Multiple Estimates
Vetting contractors requires getting multiple estimates, and that takes time and patience. Never hire a contractor until you get at least three different estimates for the job.
Compare those three quotes to see exactly what you’re getting for the price. Keep in mind that experienced contractors with excellent ratings and reviews are likely to charge a bit more.
In most cases, the most expensive quote or the quote that lands in the middle is the better choice. Often, the cheapest quote results in lower quality work.
Ensure They Are Licensed, Bonded, and Insured
Even for something as simple as a living room paint job, it’s crucial that you only hire someone licensed, bonded, and insured to work in your state. This is how you protect yourself.
If an insured contractor paints your living room and spills a can of paint on your hardwood floors, they’ll have the insurance to cover the damage. Hire an uninsured contractor, and you could be on the hook for any damage that they do.
For big projects, take the time to research the contractor’s bond and license numbers. Make sure their credentials are up-to-date and that they’re currently verified to work in your city or state.
Specific projects, such as deck building and plumbing upgrades, may require that you secure permits from your city or county. In some locales, securing permits is something that only licensed, bonded, and insured contractors can do.
Review Their Portfolio
As you narrow down your contractor selection, ask to see examples of other work they’ve done, whether that be in person or online. You should never assume that someone can do what they say they can do without showing you proof that they can back up their claims.
Asking to review an online portfolio is also an excellent way to gauge a contractor’s overall approach to business. The best contractors have years of experience and the modern know-how to employ the best, most up-to-date techniques.
If they don’t have a website, that’s a red flag.
It’s also best to look for contractors who know your community and have worked on your style of home before, especially if you have an older home.
Get Everything in Writing BEFORE the Work Begins
Never hire a contractor that won’t give you a written estimate. If a contractor doesn’t provide you with a quote in writing, choose another contractor.
And even with a written estimate, don’t allow a contractor to begin work on your home unless you get a written contract. (An appraisal is not a contract).
Unless you have a contract that details all the specifics of the work, don’t start the project.
Your contract should also include the dates of when the job will begin and end. However, you do need to allow for some flexibility, as some projects can sometimes take more time than expected.
Fail to get a timeframe in writing, and you could find yourself waiting for work to begin in August on a project you wanted completed in May.
If a contractor won’t provide a written estimate and a contract that includes a timeframe, do not hire them.
Finding the right contractor takes time and effort. You have to do your due diligence and go through the necessary steps to research, vet, and gather estimates.
Except for an emergency, like hiring a plumber to fix a broken pipe, expect the process to take some time. It may take a few days just to schedule on-site estimates.
And once you do hire a contractor, remember that it may take them a few weeks to schedule the start of your job.
If someone says they can start tomorrow, it may be because they don’t have any other jobs to do. If they tell you it will be two or three weeks before they can start, that’s usually a good sign that you’ve chosen the right one.
Adam Marshall is a freelance writer who specializes in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with The Kiley to help them with their online marketing.