How to Pick a Contractor

The first step to picking the right contractor is determining what type of contractor you want. You have the choice of hiring a single general contractor to do the complete job or hiring several sub-contractors who specialize in different phases of the project. In either case, there are several things to consider when hiring a contractor.

First, make sure the contractor is fully licensed with local and state governments. You should check with your local jurisdiction to find out if a license is required and, if it is, to ensure the license is valid and up-to-date. Don't rely on the contractor's word. Visit the links page on this website for a link to check licenses.

Be sure the contractor has general liability insurance and either worker's compensation insurance or has worker's compensation exemption certificates. And don't be shy about asking for certificates. His insurance agent will be happy to send you certificates. You may also want to check with your insurance agent to find out what your insurance covers and what it doesn't. The contractor should be able to supplement your home owner's insurance with a builder's risk policy tailored to fit the project if you decide this coverage and expense make sense for you.

Explain your project, review any drawings or sketches you may have and ask for the contractor's opinion. This is the best way to gauge the contractor's interest and capability. You want to pick a contractor who has experience with projects similar to yours. You don't want to pay for an expert and get a novice.

If you can engage a contractor who is also a licensed architect, you will save time and money.  The design-build approach is almost always better for a remodeling situation.  You have one professional that is responsible for the entire project.  Changes in the middle of construction are more easily accommodated when the carpenter is also the designer.

Ask what work the contractor will do him or her self and what jobs will be contracted out to others. Make sure you have all his or her contact information.  You may need an imediate response to an emergency.

Ask for local, recent references as well as a history of the contractor's experience and business. An individual with ties to your community is usually best. When you check references with other homeowners, ask about the contractor's work habits, timeliness of the work and the quality of the results. And don't forget to ask if they would they hire the contractor again.   

Perhaps most importantly, never pick a contractor based on price.  Find two or three highly recommended contractors and interview them, look at their past work, talk to their past clients, and choose the one that you feel the best about.  After all, you are going to be spending a lot of time with him on a project that means a great deal to you.  Find one you can trust.  Find one you have a chemistry with and you'll find a life long friend in the bargain!