Homeowners embarking on a renovation project should approach the selection of a contractor as they might approach hiring an employee. You’re going to trust this person with your money, the look and feel of your home, and, unlike most employees, you’re going to trust this person to be in your home, possibly for an extended period of time.

Here are the steps you should take when choosing a contractor for your home improvement project.

An industrial fan dries out water damaged kitchen cabinets
Before contacting a contractor, minimize additional damage to your home. For example, air out water-damaged rooms to prevent mold growth. (Surfin_Rox, Getty Images)

First Steps

  • Contact your insurance agent. Let them know the extent of the damage to your home.
  • Prevent additional damage. Cover any holes in your roof with a tarp. To prevent mold growth, open windows and run a fan to air out flooded rooms.
  • Ask friends, family and neighbors for references. Drop by and check it out and make sure the quality is what you’re expecting. If they don’t have a good contractor recommendation, find one on the National Association of Home Builders website.
  • Make sure the contactor routinely does the type of work that you want to have done at your house. You wouldn’t want a guy that builds only new homes to be building an addition on to your existing home.

Contractor's agreement with pen and tape measure on desk
Always get the terms of your contractor’s agreement in writing. (Bill Oxford, Getty Images Signature)

What to Request

  • Proof of Insurance
  • Proper License
  • A list of references
  • Request proposal in writing

Get a list of three or four contractors, and invite them to your house individually. Show them exactly what you want to have done, and what you’ll take care of yourself. That way you get an apples-to-apples estimate.

Contractor with tools by truck
Don’t hire a contractor whose business does not have a physical address. (welcomia via Canva)

Red Flags to Watch Out For

  • No physical address
  • Any pressure tactics
  • Low-ball offer
  • Requiring cash
  • Asking for large amounts of money upfront: Legitimate contractors have lines of credit, so they shouldn’t need large sums of money to start a job. The general rule is 10 percent down, and in roofing situations, it could be up to 30 percent down.
  • Beware of “Limited Time Offers”
  • Offers special deals if you obligate now

If you suspect your contractor is ripping you off, contact FEMA Fraud Investigations and Inspections Division.

Watch this video to find out more.

Further Reading

Editorial Contributors
Danny Lipford

Danny Lipford


Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio, TodaysHomeowner.com, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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