Hiring a Contractor: Our Tips and Tricks

While the husband and I are both DIYers, sometimes it’s good to know when we’ve reached our limits, when it’s time to put down the paintbrush and hammer and call in a professional. Tackling drywall and paint is no issue and while hanging trim isn’t my strong suit, I can still do that with some degree of comfort. But neither of us are trained or licensed in plumbing or electrical work beyond the occasional outlet swap or tightening a joint on a leaky pipe, nor would either of us attempt to add onto our house on our own. Often hiring contractors is due to time constraints.

For us, the turning point came when we found out that we were adding another member to our family.  Being pregnant is going to be enough to deal with and adding demolition and drywalling on top of that is not my idea of a fun time. We decided it was more time-efficient to have a professional do the work than do it ourselves. So, as we’ve gone through the process of our remodel and talked to a few others who have done/are doing the same, here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.

  1. Make a detailed plan.

Before you put out a call to a contractor, you need to sit down and plan out exactly what it is you want to be done. Prioritize what you NEED first over want and then if you have extra money at the end you can add those to your list. Ask questions like: What’s the scope of your project? What’s your max budget? Do you need to secure excess funding or can you pay it all out of pocket? What’s the timeline for your project? Once you have answers for these questions it’ll make it that much easier when it comes time to walk a contractor through your house.

  1. Do your research.

Finding the right person can be a challenge. There are plenty of horror stories of bad or mediocre contractors out there but there are just as many great ones. And not every contractor is going to be the right fit for your job, so my suggestion would be to take your time. Reach out to multiple contractors. Getting recommendations from family and friends is helpful but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor.

Look at your contractor’s reviews, their past projects. Ask how long they’ve been in business and what kind of projects they take on. Keep in mind that there may be a couple who are either unable to take on your project due to scheduling or that don’t ever get back to you. And as rude and obnoxious as that is, at least you’ll know who not to hire. Ultimately, I’d suggest picking 3-5 contractors to have quote on your project.

  1. Meet your contractors in person.

Meeting them might seem like a no brainer, but it’s important to pay attention to how they present themselves and their business. They are going to be in your home for days even weeks after all, so how well you communicate is a high priority. (I’m so thankful our contractor has patiently answered our hundreds of questions and we haven’t even started yet.) Do they shake your hand and look you in the eye? Do they answer all your questions or give you the run around? Ask if your project will require any permits. How long do they expect the project to take? Do they understand the project and everything that needs to be done? (We’ve had one or two that while well-meaning, didn’t truly grasp the scope of everything that needed work.)

But personality and presentation are only half of it, the other half being their licensing and insurance. Business licensing information is available online. Check at your state’s Office of Consumer Affairs or look up “(your state name) contractor license search”. For our state, I found the information on the state Attorney General’s site. You may even want to check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints were filed and how they were handled.

  1. Choosing your Contractor.

Once you’ve met with all your contractors, sit down and decide which one is best for you. Look at their bids for an average price point. The benefit of having multiple quotes is you should have a range of costs and say if 3 out of 5 contractors are pricing your bathroom remodel at $8,500 then that’s likely going to be the cost. Bids that are too high or too low should be tossed out and from there it’s only a matter of which contractor you’re most comfortable with. (While the contractor we chose quoted us a little higher than I was initially comfortable with, he pointed out small yet important details – like moving outlets and light switches – that none of the others had mentioned and we hadn’t considered.)

  1. Figuring out payment.

Get a written contract and/or quote with all your project’s details including start date and projected end date from your contractor. After that, it’s time to sit down and figure out the money. Did you need to secure financing? The project can’t start until that’s been approved.

From our experience thus far and from talking to others I’ve learned that a good contractor and businessperson will ask for an initial down payment – usually 20 to 30% of the total cost – to let them know you’re serious about booking them and also to hold your reservation so to speak. The rest of the payments should be made according to project milestones and not by date in case the project takes longer than expected.

Here are a few other rules to live by when it comes to paying your contractor:

  • NEVER pay in cash– If your contractor asks you to pay them in cash walk, away. Better yet, RUN. It’s a HUGE red flag and a sure sign of a shady business. The problem with paying in cash there is no ‘paper trail’ and no way to prove that how much was given or if it was given at all. It’s your word against theirs. Pay with check or better yet a credit card because credit card companies are better equipped than banks to help you if something goes wrong.
  • Don’t pay all (or even half) up front. – Similar to paying in cash, paying off the whole project at the start is a bad idea. If a contractor asks for all or even 50% right away it’s another red flag – one that could be an indicator of money troubles and do you really want to give money to someone who can’t manage their finances? Add to that, paying it all right away leaves you with no guarantee of when the work will be finished if it’s finished at all. They’ve already been paid so they can take their sweet time, or they might half-ass the work. Who knows?
  • Don’t make the final payment or sign release until you’re satisfied. Check that all work has been according to the standards set in your contract. Make sure the job site is cleaned up and any tools, equipment, etc. has been cleared away. And get written warranties on the work done, and any fixtures installed.

I hope this little guide was helpful to you. I can’t wait for the work to start and I can show off all the in-progress photos!

 

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