Choosing a Residential Contractor – Why the Right Contractor Matters

Choosing a residential contractor for your home improvement project doesn’t have to be a gamble.

With spring coming, you may be ready to move ahead with a home remodeling projects you’ve been planning. Regardless of whether it’s an entire siding replacement, a simple upgrade for your windows and doors, or even a new deck, a home remodel can improve your living space and add value to your house.

And many homeowners who are planning their projects are also thinking about residential contractors.

A remodeling or upgrading home project can be a bit of a complicated process. In addition to deciding on the specifics of your project, and maybe having to come up with the financing, a challenge for many homeowners is finding a reliable and affordable contractor.

While there may be no shortage of good residential contractors, finding the right one for your project can be a gamble. No one wants to deal with a shady contractor. But often it is also a matter of cost and compatibility.

But choosing the right contractor doesn’t need to be such an uncertain process.

Seven Tips for Choosing a Residential Contractor

The good news is that there are several best practices for finding and choosing a good residential contractor. When choosing a contractor there are several key considerations, but anyone can make a smart choice if you follow the right guidelines.

  • Get Referrals and Recommendations
  • Try to Meet with Contractors in Person
  • Verify Licensing Credentials
  • Always Get Bids
  • Never Choose a Contractor Based on Price
  • Always Get a Signed Contract
  • Agree on a Payment Plan

Here are some more details about how to follow these 7 tips to get the right residential contractor for your needs.

  1. Get Referrals and Recommendations

Most people usually ask their neighbors, friends and family and try to decide from there. However, the key is to not stop there.

Local building inspectors can often be a great resource as they will know which contractors are typically recommended in your area. There are also several online review sites such as Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, and Houzz that provide directories, reviews and often a wealth of useful information, as well.

Getting several referrals and recommendations is only a first step so don’t give in to the temptation to simply go with the first contractor’s name you get.

  1. Try to Meet with Contractors in Person

After you’ve put together a list of good referrals, narrow your list to three or four contractors. The next step is to call each of them and arrange for a meeting. Ideally, you should have them meet with you at your home, so the contractor can visualize your project and answer your questions. Meeting in person will also help you determine if you can communicate with each other well.

This is important since it is likely the contractor will be in your home for many days or even weeks. You want to know that you are comfortable working with your contractor.

  1. Verify Licensing Credentials

Never hire an unlicensed contractor. Seriously. Even if it is a friend of a friend, or a relative. If something goes wrong on the job, or you have a dispute, you could be liable. A licensed contractor, however, is required to participate in arbitration hearings if any disputes arise.

An unlicensed contractor rarely has liability insurance or a bond, so if any work needs to be re-done, the burden falls on you, the homeowner. And if an unlicensed contractor does not have workers compensation insurance, you become the employer and are responsible for any injuries or accidents that occur on your property.

Look for a contractor who has been in business for at least a few years and is licensed and registered in your state. Make sure the contractor is insured and, of course, has a good reputation with the Better Business Bureau and from your state’s consumer protection agency. Look for a history of disputes with clients or subcontractors.

  1. Always Get Bids

Now that you’ve talked to some good contractors it’s time to ask for bids from your top choices. While it may seem counterintuitive, if any of the bids you receive seem especially low you may want to eliminate that contractor from your list.

That’s because it’s quite likely that this contractor cuts corners by using cheaper materials or sub-par labor. And you may find that the “value” contractor you hired suddenly decides that your project is going to cost more than the original estimate.

  1. Never Choose a Contractor Based on Price

The old saying, “You get what you pay for.” is often true and, unlike a car or new outfit, you can’t just “return” a poor remodeling job. Quality should always win out over price.

In addition to value, keep in mind that you will be spending a great deal of time working with your contractor so try to choose someone you feel comfortable with. This includes their personality, communication style, and business methods as well as the bid offered. A good choice is a balance of all these things.

  1. Always Get a Signed Contract

A great referral and a handshake is important, but you still need a contract. It provides clarity and documented expectations and both parties are protected. And this way, you can be certain that you are both clear on the details and scope of your project.

A well-written, detailed contract allows you both to have a plan on paper that includes such details a work timetable, complete with starting and finish dates, a description of the work that will be done, materials to be used, and a payment agreement.

Finally, a good contract will document how any disputes might be addressed, and suitable time limits for fixing any mistakes or defects. Peace of mind goes both ways.

  1. Agree on a Payment Plan

Your contractor probably needs as much as you can pay throughout the span of the project to fund the expenses. But by avoiding paying most or all the estimate in full upfront or before the project is complete is a good way to ensure that the project is done when and how you want it. However, as a client, you do need to be reasonable, as well.

Making the Choice for Your Dream Project

With the proper planning and having a reputable and knowledgeable contractor, you can expect to see a job well done and at a reasonable cost.  Home improvements can be an exciting experience for both you and your family when they’re approached properly. By choosing a residential contractor you feel comfortable working with, your experience will also be less stressful.