How to Hire a Contractor for Home Remodeling Projects

Homeowners and contractor looking over plans for home improvement project.

Home remodeling contractors can range from well trained professionals who do quality work and complete projects on time to unscrupulous, fly-by-night con men that can take your money and run.

So how do you know whether the contractor you’re considering hiring is reputable or not?

How to Find a Reputable Home Remodeling Contractor

Before calling contractors for estimates on your remodeling project, start by researching what’s involved in the project and have a good idea of what you want done. This can include sketching a layout of the kitchen, bath, or porch you have in mind, as well has collecting clipping you like of similar projects from magazines.

Next, ask friends, neighbors, and relatives for recommendations of contractors who have worked for them, then narrow the field to those contractors which handle the kind of work you want done.

Dollar bills in the shape of a house.

Eliminate contractors who:

    • Don’t arrive on time for their appointment.
    • Seem disorganized or unsure of the work that’s involved.
    • Refuse to provide references or a contractor’s license.
  • Provide very low or high estimates for the job.

Homeowner Questions to Ask Contractors

In addition to going over in detail what you expect from the job, ask each potential contractor the following questions:

Q: How long has the contractor been in business?

A: The longer the better. If the contractor has been in business less than five years, inquire as to whether they’ve filed for bankruptcy in the past.

Q: Will the contractor supply references for similar jobs?

A: If the contractor won’t or can’t supply references, consider it a big red flag. When you call to check on references, ask the homeowner if you can come by and see the work firsthand. Examine the work closely, and question the homeowner about what it was like working with the contractor.

Q: Is the contractor a member of the home builder’s association?

A: Call the local home builder’s association to check, and avoid any contractors who aren’t members in good standing.

Q: Is the contractor licensed, insured, and bonded?

Homeowner and contractor discussing plans.A: Reputable contractors should carry both general liability and workman’s comp insurance as well as being bonded. Ask to see the license and write down the license number, then call the local home builder’s association and check to see if their licensed is up to date and if the contractor has any complaints against them on file. Also, call the Better Business Bureau and ask about any complaints.

Q: Does the contractor often do the type of work you have in mind?

A: Avoid contractors who don’t have extensive experience in the area of home improvement you plan to have done.

Q: When will the contractor be able to start the job?

A: Make sure the time frame the contractor gives is firm and works with your schedule.

Q: How long will it take the contractor to complete the job?

A: Is the contractor’s deadline firm, and what is the penalty if the job takes longer (make sure the penalty is big enough so it won’t be ignored).

Q: Will the contractor provide a detailed, written estimate?

A: Make sure the estimate details the work to be done, and that any limits on materials are enough to cover the expense for the items you plan to use.

Q: Will the contractor provide a contract for the job?

A: All but the most minor projects should include a detailed contract. Consider having your lawyer look over the contract to make sure it’s legally binding and protects your interests. If not, request specific changes.

Q: Do changes have to be agreed on in writing?

A: Make sure the materials—such as cabinets, plumbing fixtures, and flooring—are specified in the contract, and that any substitutions or changes in the work to be done require approval by the homeowner.

Homeowners and contractors checking plans.

Q: Does the contractor require an advance, and if so how much?

A: Any advance payment before starting the job should be for no more the 10% to 20% of the total price (some states require no more than 10% in advance).

Q: Will additional payments be required during the job?

A: Any additional partial payments should be detailed in the agreement based upon completion of specific tasks. Make sure that at least 10% to 20% of the total job is still owed upon completion, and don’t make the final payment until the job is completely finished to your satisfaction.

Q: Will the contractor obtain building permits for the work?

A: All but the most basic repair jobs should have a building permit, with inspection and approval required for components—such as wiring or plumbing—as the job progresses. In addition, exterior work may require approval by a homeowner’s association or historic board.

Q: Will all subcontractors be licensed and certified?

A: Subcontractors—such as plumbers and electricians—should be licensed and certified in their area of expertise.

Q: Who is responsible for paying subcontractors?

A: The contractor usually handles payment to subcontractors, and this should be reflected in the agreement. Make sure all subcontractors have been paid in full before settling up with the contractor.

Q: Can the homeowner terminate the contract for cause?

A: Make sure there’s a provision in the contract allowing you to cancel the agreement if the job isn’t started on time, runs over, is not done to code, or uses materials not approved by the homeowner.

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