How Much Should I Pay a Contractor Upfront?

Kathryn Pomroy
Written by Kathryn Pomroy
Updated August 12, 2021
Homeowner and contractor go over job
By vadimguzhva via Getty Images

The answer may be negotiable

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With any home project, determining payment terms with your contractor is imperative to making sure everything runs smoothly. However, you may not know exactly what to pay your contractor upfront.  

Generally, when and what you pay in advance depends on the contractor and the size of the job. However, going into that conversation with some knowledge can help you both come to an upfront payment that makes you comfortable.

Do You Have to Pay a Deposit?

Most contractors will request a downpayment to add you to their schedule and also to ensure the project continues to move forward after the contractor has purchased materials. Reputable contractors are happy to negotiate a downpayment, including the amount and payment terms. You should have a discussion about payment terms with any contractor you interview.

What Is a Reasonable Upfront Deposit for a Contractor?

Many states in the U.S. cap how much a contractor can reasonably ask for as a downpayment before work begins. For instance, Maryland and Virginia have limited this amount to around 33% of the total contract price.

In Nevada and California, advance payments when you sign a contract are limited to 10% of the total estimated job cost or $1,000, whichever is lower. Whatever amount you agree on, it needs to be fair to both parties. 

If your state does not have these legal limitations, you can expect the down payment to be between 10% and 25% of the project cost, though some projects may call for slightly different terms.

Should You Pay Throughout the Project?

Although each contractor has their own terms and their own way of approaching billing issues, the typical process involves putting money down at the beginning of the project and paying the balance at the end. There might be exceptions, however, as the job proceeds, that involve asking for additional payment.

  • If halfway through the project, the homeowner adds special materials and upgrades that the contractor must now order

  • If your contractor is working on a long-term project, it may be reasonable to pay a percentage of the total estimate throughout the job

Drawing Up a Payment Schedule

Before starting any home improvement or remodeling job, replacing your roof, adding new flooring, or beginning new construction, it’s best to sit down with your contractor to negotiate the terms of the contract, and that includes a payment schedule and deciding if you’ll pay by credit card, in cash or by check. That way, each of you—contractor and homeowner—know ahead of time what’s involved, how long it will take, how much the project will cost, and how you will pay the contractor. 

Remember, this payment schedule should be fair to both of you. If a contractor asks for more than 50% upfront, this could be a potential red flag.

More than half of all contractors who responded to a nationwide Angi poll said they require down payments for projects, with most saying they are willing to negotiate on down payment terms. Many contractors also said they are willing to work with homeowners to establish a payment schedule.

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