As a homeowner, there will almost certainly be a time you’ll need to hire a contractor to help with a repair or improvement that’s beyond your skill set. Here’s what you need to know to find the best out there and make sure you’re protected during the process!
Know exactly what your goal for the project is. The more specifics you can provide about the desired outcome – how it will look, the materials used, and more – the better your estimate will be.
Figure out what kind of contractor you need.
General Contractors manage and oversee all aspects of your project, including subcontractors, permitting, and scheduling inspections.
Specialty Contractors work with niche products like cabinets, bathrooms, drywall, and more.
Architects handle home design, additions, and major renovations (especially involving structural change)
Get recommendations & research thoroughly.
Talk to family & friends for referrals, and utilize services like the Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List. You can also talk to a local building inspector – they’ll know which home renovation contractors routinely meet code requirements – or visit the closest lumberyard, which works with contractors regularly and will know which buy good materials and settle bills on time.
Candidates that are worth an interview…
Should generally have good reviews online (although these shouldn’t be the only basis of your choice)
Should NOT turn up with words like “scam,” “rip-off,” or “complaint.”
Have an established presence operating their business that you can verify
Once you have a short list of candidates, begin with phone interviews. Questions you might include…
Do they work on projects of your size?
Will they provide financial references from suppliers or banks?
Will they provide a list of previous clients? (Note: you can expect any references provided would be positive, so another good way to verify the quality of their work is to visit a current job site!)
How many other projects would they be working on at the same time?
How long have they worked with their subcontractors, and what work would be done by subs vs. their own employees?
Make sure your final pick is properly insured.
Proof of insurance is generally required as part of the licensing process, but it’s critical to make sure the policies will cover you too! Your contractor should carry, and produce certificates for:
General liability insurance, which covers property damage and injuries caused by the contractor’s work.
Make sure the limits cover the value of your home; if yours is worth more than the standard coverage of $1 million/$2 million, the contractor can increase their coverage for a relatively small increase in their premium.
You can also request to be added as an additional insured, with coverage for both ongoing and completed work, and/or for the contractor to take out an additional Builder’s Risk policy for your project. Since this will increase the contractor’s premium it will almost certainly increase your bottom line, but the extra coverage can pay for itself in the case of issues that come up after the work is completed.
Worker’s compensation insurance, which covers anyone injured or killed in the process of the work, regardless of who is at fault.
Even if they are able to produce the certificates, contact their insurance company to confirm their coverage is still current. You can also contact your agent to see about adding Builder’s Risk or Renovation endorsements to your homeowner’s policy for an additional level of security during this process!
Watch for red flags!
You should be suspicious of any of the following:
Pressuring you for a quick hiring decision
Accepting only cash (they’re likely trying to avoid paying taxes)
Not wanting to pull permits (they’re legally required for any major home improvement project)
Soliciting door-to-door (this approach is a common start to cases of Assignment of Benefits Fraud, and be especially wary if they’re not local)
Wants to give you a deal because they have materials left over from another project they can use
Quoting a final price without seeing the job (under the best of circumstances, surprises can crop up that expand the scope of the project even with an on-site visit beforehand)
Additional things to consider once you’ve hired someone.