How to Find a Contractor When Renovating a Home –

Bottom line

It’s up to you to do your homework to find a skilled and ethical contractor for your home improvement project. Research each contractor thoroughly, and feel free to take your time to make the best decision for your home. After you’ve reviewed and signed the contract proposal, you’ll write a deposit check. Now you’re one step closer to your dream home.

They Like Perfectionist Clients More Than Legal Opponents

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Do you feel like you're being a nuisance by delivering clear, exact information to the contractor? Are you afraid to add to the punch list that comes at the end of the project, detailing remaining items to be done?

Do not be afraid to speak the truth. While no contractor likes a client who is impolite, the contractor does want to deal with requests now, long before the project is finished. Resentments that fester and turn into lawsuits help no one. Just be civil and professional about it, and the contractor will, too.

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1. Be proactive, not reactive

Have you ever heard the old phrase, “The best time to look for a job is when you don’t need one”? The same principle applies to contractors. If you’re only looking for one when you need one, you’re setting yourself up for problems from the start. Instead, be proactive. Have a continually evolving list of people you could call for various problems and continue to add people to the list even when you don’t need someone at the moment.

Who to choose

So you’ve interviewed several contractors, compared bids and narrowed down your search. Now it’s time to choose a general contractor for the job. When selecting your contractor, remember that you’ll be working with this person on a regular basis. That means good communication is key. While you certainly don’t need to be best friends with your contractor, it’s important that you get along and are on the same page about most everything.

When choosing a general contractor, it’s also important to not choose based on their bid alone. Just because one contractor’s bid is considerably lower than another’s doesn’t mean that you should go with the cheapest option. In fact, a lowball, too-good-to-be-true estimate could be an indication that the general contractor is desperate for the job. While price is a consideration, other factors such as quality of work, client reviews and character traits should be top of mind as well. Whatever you do, make sure you’re comfortable with your choice. If none of the contractors interviewed meet your expectations, then start the search over and find new contractors to consider.

7. Find out about subcontractors

Do you know which other companies or service providers—like electricians, plumbers, or carpenters—your potential home contractor likes to use? Find out, so you know more about the other vendors who will complete your property upgrade.

7. Have a strategy for how you will resolve differences

Any contractor you hire will become part of your life for at least the duration of the project. Make sure you pick someone with whom you can communicate, and trust your gut if first impressions leave you feeling uneasy. Reputable professionals will insist on clear written agreements in order to protect both parties. During initial meetings, ask how unexpected issues or differences might be handled. This can include change orders (these should always be in writing, with cost issues directly noted) or more serious disputes, such as unintended damage or a failure to meet legal or reasonable standards.

4. Investigate a contractor’s work history and work habits

Some contractors are specialists while others are generalists, so make sure their abilities are appropriate to your project. Take time to see their work firsthand, and look for three things: some similarity to your project, quality materials and workmanship, and consistent client satisfaction. Also, track small indicators that signal professionalism or a lack thereof. Are your phone calls returned in a timely manner? Are appointments and meeting times kept? Do the company's vehicles or dress code reflect pride and cleanliness? Carelessness in these small matters might not bode well for the quality of work.

bathroom freestanding bathtub Credit: Adam Albright

Can they speak in lay terms

“Can the contractor explain to you what’s going to happen without using too much technical jargon? If they can, that’s usually a signal they understand the overall complexity of the project at hand,” Mark Clement, a home improvement media personality and Pennsylvania-based residential remodeling contractor, says.

Here are 11 secrets home renovation contractors wish first-time buyers knew.

4. Google them

References are great, but doing your own research is also key to picking a contractor. It’s like a referral… but from tons of people on the internet. Here, you can also check if they have been a part of any shady activity or if there are any active disputes. Check out their profile on the Better Business Bureau and see if they’re in good standing. If they’re private that could be a bad sign.

Putting their name, their company’s name, your city, and terms like “scam,” “rip off,” “complaints,” or “court” into a search can often unearth any red flags about the person. For example, if you wanted to find out more about First Rate Construction Company in Metropolis, you would search things like:

  • First Rate Construction Metropolis
  • First Rate Construction scam
  • First Rate Construction sue

They Can Help With Permits but Cannot Work Magic

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Imagine a scenario where a homeowner wants special provisions: "I want to build my addition on a drainage easement, have no receptacles on the kitchen island, and put no windows in my residential basement. Can you get the permit office to approve this?"

Likely not. Contractors cannot make the permit office bend the rules. Do not ask the contractor to try to do this. Doing so might jeopardize the contractor’s standing with the permit office and might actually result in fines.

Contractors may have good relationships with the permit office that have often extended for years. One reason for the good relationship is that the contractor doesn’t ask the office to do things that cannot be done.

However, we live in a social world. Goodwill that the contractor has built up over years of working with permit officers and staff counts, and this is one reason why you hire a contractor: connections.

2. Interview multiple contractors

Finding a reliable home contractor online is possible, but online reviews are no substitute for meeting with a contractor in person. And don’t forget to give yourself options, even if you have a highly-recommended contractor already in mind.

Interview multiple candidates to get a sense of what it would be like to have the person work in your home. Each contractor will likely have a different approach, budget, timeline, and relationship with subcontractors in your area.

Confirm licensures and pull permits

“Contractors need to prove proper licensing for the state, the city, and the county,” Wilkins says. “Also, make sure they sign a release of liens.” Scherek also says it’s important for contractors to pull the proper permits for proof of inspections cleared with past work. “If there was plumbing or electrical work done, you have to make sure it was done up to code and inspections were run,” he says. Both Scherek and Wilkins also recommend calling the Better Business Bureau to cover all your bases by checking against any formally filed complaints.

Find out the 31 secrets your plumber won’t tell you.

Provide a complete list of all renovations and blue prints of the home

When meeting with the contractor, make sure to provide a full list of all home renovation needs. From changing out door knobs and re-painting rooms to demolishing cabinets and installing flooring, every change (no matter how small) should be included on the renovation list. This will help the contractor put together as accurate a bid as possible.

How do I find the best remodeling contractors near me?

The first place to start your search for a home renovation contractor is with your own circle of friends. If your girlfriend recently had her kitchen remodeled, ask her who did the job. “Most of our leads come from referrals,” says Gauldin.

If your friends don’t have anyone to recommend, try searching on sites like HomeAdvisor or the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). Once you start finding names, take a look at their websites. Read testimonials and reviews on Google or social media pages. Look at their portfolios for jobs similar to yours. And check the state licensing page online to make sure they’re licensed and haven’t had any claims against them.

Once you narrow your search to a few possible candidates, it’s time to personally interview each one. Here are the key questions to ask.

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