7 Questions To Ask When Hiring a Contractor

Spending on home remodels and improvements is expected to peak by fall 2022. (Deposit Photos)

Finding the right contractor for a remodeling project involves a good deal of research and carefully attention to detail to make sure you are not only getting a good deal, but quality workmanship.

Before hiring a contractor for a remodeling project on your home, make sure you know the answer to the following important questions. Read on to find out more.

Workers stand on metal roof
Foreman with homeowner.

Hiring Tip #1: Is the Contractor Legit?

The first step to take before interviewing a potential contractor is to make sure they’re a legitimate contractor with a history of quality work.

Start by checking to make sure the contractor you’re considering is licensed in the state in which the work will be performed. At a search engine, such as Google or Yahoo, search for “contractor license lookup [insert state],” to find the website of the contractor licensing board for your state.

Search the licensing board website for the name of the individual or company you are considering hiring to make sure they are in good standing and have a current contracting license. This will ensure that the contractor you hire is licensed and has undergone proper training. The state licensing site may also list any complaints that have been made against the contractor in question.

Another great way to make sure the contractor is legit is by reading online reviews on websites such as Facebook, Yelp, Yellow Pages, and Angie’s List. These websites can provide you with valuable feedback on a contractor’s work and customer satisfaction.

You should also ask prospective contractors for contact information on past clients who had similar work done, then call and get their feedback on the contractor and see if you can stop by and look at the work.

It’s also a good idea to make sure a contractor has an actual physical address on business cards and estimates, rather than just a P.O. Box. This will make tracking them down much easier if a problem arises.

Couple signing a home equity line of credit agreement
It’s normal to receive a rough estimate of final costs rather than a fixed price. (DepositPhotos)

Hiring Tip #2: Is the Bid an Estimate or a Firm Price?

Many contractors will provide a rough estimate of how much a job will cost instead of a fixed price. This reduces the time they have to spend on estimating and protects the contractor if higher costs are incurred during completion of the work.

An estimate is fine in the early stages of gathering information for a project; but before signing a contract, you should request a fixed price so you’ll know exactly how much the job will cost.

Contractors often avoid giving a firm price if there are too many unknown factors in the job. It’s also standard to include a clause in the contract covering added cost for any changes made by the homeowner, as well as any unexpected problems that might arise; but urge the contractor to set a firm price whenever possible.

materials used to make concrete stools, pictured posed on a white backdrop
Construction materials used by contractors.

Hiring Tip #3: Is the Bid Itemized?

Getting a detailed, itemized bid allows you to compare different bids based upon what is being charged in both labor and materials for each part of the job.

Many contractors will give a price for the entire project, but it’s important to also know what is being charged for each part of the job, along with the type of materials and any maximum allowances for specific items.

For example, if you hire a contractor to build a deck with white vinyl rails, and you end up deciding upon wood rails, the overall price should come down. Without an itemized bid, you will not know what the difference in price should be.

Having itemized bids also makes it easier to compare bids from different contractors. If a contractor submits a much higher or lower price than other bids, an itemized bid will allow you to see why.

Providing an itemized bid is not that difficult for the contractor to do, and it’s important for protecting both you and the contractor against misunderstandings. If a contractor refuses to provide an itemized bid, it may be best to look elsewhere.

A construction crew builds a stage at Lafayette Landing Park in Marianna, Florida
Contractors construct a park’s stage.

Hiring Tip #4: Will a Foreman Be Present On Site?

The truth is the contractor is often not on the job site daily doing the grunt work. Most contractors are usually out looking for new jobs and working on bids for upcoming projects.

Find out if the contractor will have a foreman on the site, and if possible check out another job the foreman and his crew are working on. That way you can see whether the project is running smoothly and the kind of work they do.

This also will indicate to the contractor that you’re a savvy homeowner who will be keeping an eye on the project, so they may provide the best crew they have to prevent problems. The way the foreman runs his crew will also give you an idea of what to expect when the task is completed.

Contractor Gear
Sometimes, contractors will give jobs to other contractors. (Zolnierek/Getty Images)

Hiring Tip #5: Will the Job Be Subcontracted Out?

Some of the most common stories you will hear about contracting jobs going wrong is when they are subcontracted out, and the original contractor did not do their homework.

This is normally done when the contractor has taken on more projects than his crews can accommodate. Be sure it is in your contract that if you have any issues with the work performed, the contractor, not the subcontractor, will be held responsible.

You do not want to have problems deciding who to contact if an issue arises. I have heard multiple stories about a job which was subcontracted and had issues, only to have the original contractor blame it on the subcontractors. The main thing to remember is you want to know who is legally responsible, and have it in writing.

Even though you are not doing the actual work, you are still responsible for any work done on your property. This means making sure the contractor and workers are insured and have obtained all necessary permits. These can include permits from city, state, or even homeowner associations.

Contractor Gear
Having workers in your home can be stressful. (Zolnierek/Getty Images)

Hiring Tip #6: What Is the Project Timeline?

One of the most common complaints people have with home improvement projects is how long it takes to complete the job. Having work done on your home can be very disruptive and stressful, since workers are coming and going, noise levels may be high, and there is often a lot of mess involved.

Request a firm start date, and a fixed completion date; and make sure these dates are on the contract, along with a penalty if they’re not met.

You also want to consult with the contractor regarding what happens if a problem arises, or additional supplies need to be ordered.

Along with the project timeline, you should be aware how often the contractor will be making site visits. Having the contact information of the contractor and foreman is important if the project starts to run behind.

Without keeping in contact, and making sure the project remains on time, you may find yourself in a very frustrating situation.

Typically, the advance upon signing a contract will be 10% of the final cost.

Hiring Tip #7: How Much Money Is Needed Up Front?

Not only is it important to know how much the remodeling project will cost, you also need to know how much is required in advance of starting the job. You want to provide enough of an advance so the contractor can order materials and get started on the work; but not so much that they will delay finishing the project, or worse, leave town.

The usual advance upon signing a contract is 10% of the total cost of the job, or $1,000, whichever is less.

Once the project is underway, don’t allow yourself to be pressured into paying for work which has not been completed. A reputable contractor won’t need large amounts up front. If they are operating correctly and efficiently, their cash flow should be fine.

A quick tip for paying contractors is to be careful who you are making a check out to. Do not write your check out to the individual. This can cause a lot of problems if the work is not completed.

You want to be sure you are making a check out to the contracting business, not the individual. This ensures that the contractor has a valid business license, and it will make it easier to file a claim or take legal action if needed.

Also, be sure to keep track of all your payments through your checkbook or online banking service.

Following these quick tips will help protect you when hiring a contractor, and it will allow you to avoid many of the problems which can arise. There are usually lots of contractors available to choose from, so take your time, and be sure you are comfortable with your decision.

Further reading


  1. This is a really good start when it comes to asking the right questions of any contractor you’re considering. However, there are more things to consider when hiring a contractor. We recommend asking the contractor for references, for example, and pictures of prior projects. Knowing what their cleanup routine is can also save you a lot of headache. It’s a good idea to write out all of your questions before you sit down with a contractor, so that you don’t forget anything during the evolution of the conversation.

  2. I just luv u men, thanks 4 all tips & tricks. 4 b n a single lady…I enjoy watching & viewing yas web site. Thank ya..enjoy tis weather n the south


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