How to Choose a Contractor

Let’s say you want to do some home remodeling or repair or finally build that addition you’ve been planning for years. Who will you call to do the work? Finding an honest, reliable and conscientious contractor can be as challenging as finding a mechanic you can trust. Where to begin?

Obviously, you can call friends for a referral, but not everyone has a network of friends in the construction trades. Even if you do get a referral to your neighbor’s friend, how do you know he or she can deliver the kind of quality work you seek, within your time frame and budget?

The short answer is, ask!

Sometimes when personal connections are involved, people are reluctant to ask the kind of probing questions they wouldn’t think twice about asking a stranger; but in the end, remember that YOU are the customer. Don’t hesitate to inquire about the contractor’s experience with a particular type of project, anticipated time frame and budget, problems encountered and how he or she resolved them, phone numbers of those who’d be willing to talk about the work the contractor did for them, and so on.

Those who don’t have such personal connections are increasingly using the internet to find contractors by reading reviews on sites such as, checking out forums in which similar questions have been asked and answered, and joining online referral networks such as Angie’s List. This type of network, which may require a small fee to join, relies on members to write reviews based on their experiences. In addition, many neighborhoods or organizations create their own, less commercial review networks.

Another way to find a good contractor is to ask a contractor in a related field. If you need a plumber, for example, ask the person who cleans your sewer. If you need an electrician, ask your furnace company. If you trust contractors in some fields, you can use those people to open doors to other contractors in other fields. Be sure to check out my list of recommended contractors here.

Once you have the name of one or more recommended contractors, you’ll typically want to check that each contractor is licensed (if required) and insured. If you’re hiring out for an expensive job, get at least three bids for the work, and don’t necessarily go with the lowest bid. If the work is substantial, be sure to ask the contractor whether permits are required, and follow up to make sure the permits were actually pulled.

Although a single sub-contractor can capably handle smaller jobs, consider using a general contractor to supervise bigger, more complex and more expensive projects. General contractors oversee the work of subcontractors to ensure the job is done correctly, on time and on budget. A good general contractor can often save a homeowner more than the cost of his or her services.