What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Contractor

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated August 5, 2021
Contractor meets with homeowner in remodeled kitchen
kate_sept2004 / E+ via Getty Images

Hiring the right contractor for your job can make the whole project run more smoothly

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Whether you’re looking to finish your basement, remodel your bathroom, or build an addition, you’ll need a general contractor. But knowing how to find the right contractor may not come naturally, especially if this is your first home project. Luckily with a few tips, you can find a pro who will complete your project with ease.

How to Find a Contractor

There are many ways to find the best contractor for your project. A simple web search can be a great place to start. You can also ask friends and family for recommendations or even turn to social media to find contractors in your area (plus quickly see reviews). These reviews, as well as other online info, can help connect you with local general contractors best suited to your project. 

Once you have a list of great businesses near you, you can narrow down your list based on availability, specialties, and other factors.

Before Hiring a General Contractor

Before you sign a contract with a general contractor, you’ll want to go through a few steps to make sure you’re a good match. From planning the project to asking for estimates, here’s what you need to know.

Plan Your Project for Accurate Quotes

Make sure you compile important details about your project to make sure you get the most accurate quotes.

Let’s say you want your living room painted. Rather than just requesting a quote for painting, come prepared with the square footage, the location (indoor or outdoor), the type of paint you’d like, and whether or not any furnishings will need to be moved or covered for the contractor to do the job.

For a room remodel, there will be many more elements to factor into the project plan. Be prepared to discuss square footage, flooring types, counter types, paint, tile, and lighting.

If you need a roof repair, note any details that can help make the inspection and repair more efficient, like if you notice a leak in a certain spot of the house or missing shingles on a specific area of the roof after a windstorm.

Regardless of how big or small your project is, prepare as many details as possible to get the most accurate quotes. Aim to receive at least three quotes from local contractors, and ask about their pricing models and what all the quote covers. If you need multiple projects completed, you should also be prepared to reach out to several professionals to form a dream team of contractors.

Will Contractor Estimates Cost You?

When it comes to whether you’ll pay a contractor to get an estimate, it really all comes down to proper terminology. For an estimate, a general contractor can hear a little about your project and give you a range of predicted costs. This is often free, especially for small projects, like painting a room. But once the general contractor has to start answering specific questions or even coming to your home to take measurements or evaluate the site, you should expect to pay for their time and expertise. This process has exceeded a simple estimate and is a proposal.

Contractors will generally charge for an estimate for larger projects because these typically involve more details and customized solutions. You can expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $1,000 for an estimate on a large project, such as a kitchen remodel or home renovation.

Check Your Contractor’s Qualifications and References

Once you’ve gathered some quotes, it’s time to do a deep dive on the contractor. Making sure to hire a well-qualified contractor can help give you peace of mind that the job is done right.

Is your contractor certified or licensed to perform the tasks at hand? Do they have insurance? Ask for credentials and references for each contractor. It’s best to review three references for each contractor. There are several questions you should ask a contractor’s references, from what their project’s timeline was to the communication between contractor and client to the final costs and quality of the finished work.

Questions to Ask Your Contractor

Asking the right questions can help narrow your shortlist of potential contractors. After asking for a quote and appropriate licensing, certifications, and insurance, here are a few other questions to pose:

  • What is the estimated project timeline?

  • What are the start and end times for each day of work?

  • What is the payment schedule?

  • How can I get in touch with you, and how long does it typically take to receive a response?

  • How do you protect the project site?

Hiring a General Contractor

Now that you’ve decided on a general contractor, it’s time to start the hiring process.

Get a Contract and Arrange Payments

Never go into business without a contract. Make sure that you read the contract closely, as it will include the payment schedule, costs, timeline, final payments, and information about damages and liabilities in the event that something goes wrong. Negotiate the contractor’s down payment as needed. If you aren’t comfortable with certain parts of the contract, you can discuss and revise them with your contractor until you both feel confident.

Keep Records of the Project

While many contractors will exceed your expectations, it’s important to keep track of the work as it progresses. If any problems or miscommunications come up, having records of the project can protect the contractor and the client. Make a note of anything outlined in the contract: when the contractor starts and ends work each day, hours worked, whether or not the space is cleaned up after each working session, and whether or not the project is fitting into the proposed timeline.

After Your General Contractor Finishes the Project

Once the project is complete, make sure to arrange the final payment with the contractor. If the quality isn’t up to the standards outlined in the contract, talk with the contractor about the issues to see if they can resolve them.

You should also leave a review to help other clients find the best contractor for them. Share your experience, good, bad, or indifferent, through online reviews and word of mouth.

If you are pleased with the work, you can also offer to be a reference for the contractor.

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