How to Find a Reliable Home Contractor

Sep. 14, 2020 | Written by: Lori Fox

How to Find a Reliable Home Contractor

Before hiring a contractor for your home improvement project, interview at least five candidates and check their references. 

For most homeowners, the hardest part of any home renovation project isn't the work itself – it's finding a competent and reliable contractor to do the job. Installing kitchen cabinets, knocking down walls or retiling floors are straightforward tasks compared with the struggle of hiring a quality contractor who will perform at a high level from start to finish.

Everyone knows stories of horrendous contractors who tore apart the kitchen and never returned or projects that ended up costing three times the contractor's original estimate.

"Those are the nightmare kind of stories I hear all the time," says Angie Hicks, who in 1995 started the company that would become Angie's List, a go-to resource for reviews of contractors and other service providers.

Even with a good contractor, home renovation can be stressful, expensive and involve unpleasant surprises, such as rotted subfloors that are revealed when tile is removed or dangerous electrical wiring or leaking pipes behind walls.

Here are some tips to find the right contractor while still keeping your budget – and sanity – under control.

  • Know what you want before you get estimates.
  • Ask friends, relatives and co-workers for references.
  • Interview at least five contractors.
  • Be realistic about availability.
  • Ask what work will be done by subcontractors.
  • Choose the right contractor for the right project.
  • Check licenses, complaints and litigation history.
  • Check references.
  • Read online reviews.
  • Sign a detailed contract.
  • Get the proper permits.
  • Don't pay more than 10% of the total before the job starts.
  • Don't sign a contract for your entire renovation budget.
  • Negotiate ground rules.
  • Talk to the contractor frequently.
  • Verify insurance coverage.
  • Get lien releases and receipts for products.
  • Don't make the final payment until the job is done.

Know What You Want Before You Get Estimates

First things first: "Start with a plan and some ideas," Hicks says. "Don't start by talking to contractors." You'll get a more accurate estimate if you can be specific about what you want done and the materials you would like to use to make it happen.

Ask Friends, Relatives and Co-Workers for References

People in your neighborhood who have done similar projects are great resources. If you know anyone in the building trades, ask them as well. Employees of local hardware stores may also be able to provide contractor referrals.

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