Hiring a contractor to tackle your upcoming home project is no small undertaking. Whether it’s a renovation, remodel, new construction or specialty work like plumbing or drywall, it's important to find a good contractor who will stay within your budget and on time.
This guide demystifies the process of finding the right contractor for your home renovation or build. If you're a homeowner, keep reading to get tips on how to find, vet and work with contractors and receive bids for your next project.
First of all, you need to determine if you truly need a contractor for your home improvement project or renovation. General contractors and subcontractors can help with almost any project you’re working on, including kitchen remodels, bathroom renovations and other types of construction and remodeling projects.
Depending on your project’s scope, you might need to hire a general contractor. A general contractor supervises, coordinates and manages your project. They’ll go over the plans, materials and costs to help ensure your project stays within your budget.
But a general contractor won’t complete every aspect of the project. Instead, they'll hire other specialty contractors (also called subcontractors) to perform electrical, plumbing, tiling, construction and other types of tasks required to complete your remodeling project. A general contractor can also help you with inspections and getting the necessary permits.
A subcontractor typically has a specialty in specific trades, such as:
If you hire a general contractor, you don’t have to worry about searching for and hiring several subcontractors — your general contractor will take care of this for you. However, you may only need to hire a specialty contractor if you have a small home improvement project. For example, you can hire an HVAC contractor to upgrade or fix your heating and air conditioning system. You can also hire a tiling contractor to install new tiles in your bathroom or a tile backsplash in your kitchen.
Homeowners who are working on major renovations will often require an architect and/or an interior designer. An architect will work with you to understand your vision and ideas. They will create the designs (while keeping safety regulations and building codes top of mind) and give them to your contractor, who will bring your vision to life.
An interior designer will also create designs for your interior space, focusing on functionality, aesthetics, safety and building codes. They can also decorate your interior space and help you decide on furnishings, finishes, paint colors and more.
After you’ve determined you need a contractor, filter out potential candidates by identifying the type of contractor that's best suited for your project. For example, if you only need plumbing work, new roofing or a bathroom remodel, find contractors who specialize in each of those domains. When tackling a major remodeling project that involves a mix of different jobs (like a complete house renovation), you’ll likely need a general contractor — and possibly an architect, interior designer and several subcontractors.
Going online and using tools is the best way to find local contractors. When you search online and use a tool like Thumbtack, you’ll find plenty of crucial information that can help you identify the best person for your project. For example, always read the contractors’ customer reviews and ratings. Reviews left by happy (and unhappy) clients will tell you a lot about a contractor’s professionalism, communication, pricing and work quality.
Many clients also post photos in their reviews. As you’re browsing through the reviews, look for photos of projects that resemble yours. These photos can help you get a better idea of a contractor’s specialty and craftsmanship. If you can’t find pictures of customers’ projects in their reviews, look for images the contractor may have posted on their profiles or website.
Also read: How to search for a pro for your project.
Online reviews can help you decide if a contractor is reputable, but you can take several other steps. For example, consider visiting the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and look up the contractor. On the BBB website, you can read more reviews and get information about client complaints. You can also conduct a quick web search to uncover whether a potential contractor has been involved in any rip-offs, scams or legal cases.
You should always make sure your contractor is licensed per your local and state jurisdictions. For example, they may need a specialty or a general contractor license. Find out what the rules are where you live, and ask the contractor to provide proof of their license (especially if you can’t verify this information online).
If something goes wrong during your project, you should be covered. Make sure the contractor you hire has insurance and bonding if required. Here are more tips on how to verify insurance.
Contacting contractors can be time-consuming — but you should always reach out to several candidates before making a decision. Think of this part of the process as insurance against expensive and unpleasant disputes down the road. Contact at least three to five contractors, but don’t hesitate to reach out to more if you’re having difficulty finding a good fit.
Here are several questions you can ask contractors:
These are just some of the questions you can ask. Don’t hesitate to ask more as they arise. And as you’re asking these questions, write down the contractors’ answers. Later down the line, your notes can help you make sure certain vocal agreements are ultimately written down and included in the contract.
Also read: How to message and communicate with pros.
Ideally, you should hire a contractor who offers fair pricing and quality work. To find out which contractor provides the best value for your money, you need to gather price quotes from a handful of good contractors.
Many factors can influence the cost of hiring a contractor, including the square footage of the space, the materials you need and the number of contractors it’ll take. To get the most accurate cost estimate possible, give the contractors as many details about your project as possible. For example, if you’re working on a kitchen renovation, let them know:
You can also give the contractors any photos, plans or designs you might already have. The more information you give the contractor, the more accurate your price quote will be. And the easier it will be to plan, save and budget for your project.
The first price quote you receive may not have much wiggle room, but it doesn’t hurt to try to negotiate. But to negotiate effectively, get cost estimates and bids from several contractors. Then, compare them.
If you think a contractor’s prices are too high (compared to their competitors) but they’re still your No. 1 choice, you can let them know you received more reasonable bids from other local contractors. They might agree to match their rates — or they might not. If not, decide whether your favorite contractor’s high prices are worth it or if you should choose a more affordable candidate.
Just remember: Don’t sacrifice quality to secure the cheapest rates. Ultimately, hiring a more experienced, skilled, professional and reputable contractor is the best way to go if your primary concern is quality.
Also, if you can’t negotiate to lower the total costs, you may be able to negotiate a payment plan or schedule that works for your budget.
The Federal Trade Commission identifies several signs that a contractor you’re considering might not be reputable. Keep an eye out for these red flags to protect yourself, your home and your money:
After you’ve completed your research, it’s time to make a decision. Ask yourself these questions as you narrow your list down to one:
Decide which factors are the most important to you, and weigh them against each other accordingly.
Your contract with your contractor needs to be explicitly detailed down to the finest points. For example, it should include the following:
After you hire a contractor, you can help ensure your project goes smoothly by keeping track of all changes and delays, communicating with your contractor regularly and establishing a good rapport. Consider implementing these tips as the contractors work on your project:
If you have concerns about your project, attempt to address them and resolve the dispute with the contractor. A good customer experience is vital to many contractors, and they rely on positive reviews, word of mouth and references to continue growing their business. Often, you can resolve disputes by communicating clearly with your contractor.
However, if you can’t agree on a solution, Thumbtack can help. Here’s more information on how to resolve issues with a project.
Your home may be the biggest investment you ever make. Put in the necessary research and time to find the right residential contractor for your home renovation or remodeling project. Using Thumbtack, you can quickly hone in on the best contractors in your area and hire a top-rated professional.
For more tips on how to hire a professional on Thumbtack, read our Smart Hiring guide.
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