What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Contractor

What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Contractor

You can’t turn on a TV or read news on the internet without coming across a story of someone who got taken after hiring a contractor to perform work on their home. Although it can be hard to avoid unscrupulous people, a little research beforehand can protect you and your home when it comes to hiring a contractor.

Get Recommendations

One of the best things to do is get recommendations from friends, co-workers and/or family to see who they have used themselves and been pleased with. All the same, it’s important to remember that the contractor that turned your neighbor’s basement into an awesome home theater is not necessarily the person you want to remodel your bathroom. Hire contractors that are experts in the area you are looking for.

hiring a contractor clipboard

Then check in with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry or the National Association of Home Builders or other trade associations for a list of members in your area. Although membership in these organizations is voluntary, someone who pays dues and participates in these organizations is less likely to be a “fly by night” contractor since requirements include a certain minimum of years of experience and continuing education credits.

You can also talk with a building inspector, who’ll know which contractors routinely meet code requirements, says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva, or pay a visit to your local lumberyard or hardware store to find out if your contractor has an account there in good standing.

Do Your Research

If your state requires that he/she be registered as a home improvement contractor and/or licensed as a construction supervisor, check that the contractor has these registrations, as well as if they have been cited by the state or city for violations or complaints.

Another good idea check with your state to see if contractor has opened and closed multiple businesses over the years. Often contractors will get cited, fined or declare bankruptcy under the name of one business and open another one under a different name so it appears that they have a clean record.

You may also want to also check with the Better Business Bureau. Search your local Bureau and check to see if there are any outstanding complaints against the contractor. Although membership listings in the BBB are paid for by the businesses themselves, it can still be a good place to start any research.

Your local Chamber of Commerce can also be helpful. Ideally you’ll find no complaints lodged against the contractor you want to hire.


Once you have gotten recommendations and done your research, it is time to interview the contractor. You are paying money for the project, so act like the boss and conduct a phone and/or face-to face interview. Treat it the same way you would as a job interview and make sure that you interview more than one candidate. Three candidates are the minimum you should interview.

Remember that how a contractor behaves at your initial meeting is a good predictor of how he/she will treat the project overall. Did the contractor show up on time? Did they pay attention to what you needed or did they try to up-sell you? Did they provide you with reliable references? Did they show you a portfolio of former work?

female house contractorNever hire anyone who uses high pressure sales techniques, like insisting that a price for new windows is only good for the next 48 hours. Never hire someone who will only accept cash and refuses to use a written contract.

Be wary of a contractor who can start immediately. Good contractors will currently be working on projects because they are in demand. Make sure that you get written quotes from each contractor. Track the quote variables with a spreadsheet or other list that you can always have in front of you in case you have further questions.

Visit a Current Job Site

A good contractor should be working on more than one project or have just finished up a project. A reliable contractor should have no trouble with you visiting a current job site or your talking to someone who the contractor recently finished working with.

Take a look around the job site and see how the contractor and workers handle other people’s property. Do they wear protective clothing? Do they follow safety precautions and city or state laws? Does the work area seem organized and neat or chaotic and messy? This will give you an idea how your home or business will be treated when the contractor begins work.

Get it in Writing

Let’s repeat this. Get it in writing. This is one of the most important things you can do, not just for your own protection, but to make sure that everything is clear between you and the contractor. For these reasons, it is good to have something in writing even if your state doesn’t require it.

At minimum, a written agreement should include:

  • the contractor’s name, contact information and license number(s)
  • an estimated start and completion date of the project
  • the payment schedule–this should include both the contractor and any subcontractor
  • the contractor’s obligation to get all necessary permits
  • how changes to any work described in the original contract will be handled and how it these may affect project costs and completion date
  • promises made during in person conversations, calls or texts
  • a detailed list of all materials (ideally including brand, model, size and color)
  • warranty information concerning materials and workmanship, with the warranty period and any limitations
  • what the contractor will and won’t do

Find What Licenses and Permits are Needed

It’s always a good idea to find out what licenses and permits contractors need, but remember that unless the state or municipality requires it, it is the contractor’s job to get these permits. These permits should be built into the contractor’s costs as well as written into the agreement between you and the contractor.

Never hire a contractor who expects you to get permits. In nearly every area of the United States the person who takes out the permit is the one responsible for compliance. If your name is on the permit and the work crew totally screws up, you could be fined instead of the contractor.

Get Insurance Information

Ask about insurance. You can’t afford to have someone doing work on your home who isn’t insured and bonded. If the contractor gets injured or destroys your property and they aren’t insured, the bill is considered to be your responsibility.

house on money pileAsk how many employees they have, and about who will be doing the work. Depending on the field and the kind of work being done, it’s possible the supervisor has all the credentials but the workers don’t.

Don’t forget to check your homeowners insurance as well to see what’s covered during renovations or house additions.


Although doing research up front may seem like a lot of work, when it comes to hiring a contractor, the time spent is worth it. Knowing what to expect will save you both time and money in the long run.

Anything else you should remember when hiring a contractor to perform work on your home? Let us know in the comments below!