Hiring a contractor is not unlike hiring an employee. You’ll be trusting this person with your financial investment and a great deal of your time, and (unlike most employees), you’ll be trusting this person with your home as well. General contractors should be experienced, insured, and able to provide references. They should also be respectful of your space and time—they will, afterall, be in your home for an extended period of time.
Here’s what you should do to find the right contractor for your home renovation project.
1. Ask around
The best place to start your search for a contractor is by asking people you trust whether they have worked with a contractor they liked. You might even be able to get a sneak peak at the work they’ve done.
Because not all renovation jobs are the same, it’s important to find someone with a project similar to yours. A contractor who wired your new addition for electricity is not the same contractor who would necessarily be the best at refinishing hardwood floors.
2. Read reviews
Once you’ve gotten a few references, go read reviews on third-party sites. This will help you get a sense of their track record over a longer period of time and will also help you understand whether they stay on schedule, on budget, and keep the homeowner involved and informed during the process.
3. Compare quotes
Ask for quotes from at least three contractors. Make sure you understand the cost of materials, labor, and any extra fees they charge. You should also know who handles building and permit fees (because they may be expecting you to do so). Keep in mind that the cheapest contractor isn’t necessarily the best deal—when it comes to renovation, you often get what you pay for, and a cheap quote could mean cheap work.
Because the winter months are often the slow season for many contractors and builders, some offer discounts to help drum up business. Ask your contractor whether they offer discounts in the off season.
4. Ask to see their insurance and license
A general contractor must be licensed to work in your state, so ask to see their license. You should also inquire with your state’s contractor licensing board to find out whether the contractor has had any complaints lodged against them or whether they have ever received disciplinary action.
5. Make sure they’re bonded and insured
Some states will require that general contractors be bonded and insured, but yours should be both, regardless of state law. Having a bonded contractor means that you’re financially and legally protected if they fail to complete the job. Having an insured contractor means that you won’t be liable if an accident occurs during the project.
Simply ask to see the certificate of insurance, then call the issuer to verify that the policy is active.
6. Ask for references
Contractors should be able to provide client references for the same type of project you’re undertaking. For example, if you’re working on a home that is in an historic district, they should be experienced in restrictions and codes for your specific protected area. You might even ask these people whether you can come take a look at the work. Ask how the job has held up over time, whether the contractor was on time and on budget, how they left your home at the end of a workday, how the contractor and workers behaved while they were in the house, etc. Get a sense of just how the project went from start to finish.
Matilda Davies is a home and garden writer based in Raleigh, North Carolina.