The Do’s and Don’ts of Hiring a Contractor

contractor talks with clients of new home
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Whether you’re waterproofing your basement, building a deck, remodeling a kitchen or anything in between, your choice of contractors will determine how much the project will cost and how well it will be done.

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If you’re looking for a top-notch professional who will do the job right, you can save money, speed up the timeline and avoid the most common pitfalls by following this list of do’s and don’ts.

Do Deal Only With Licensed Professionals

When you’re shopping for contractors, you probably already know to scour the internet for reviews. But your vetting process has to go a bit further to make sure you’re dealing with a certified professional and not just some person with a truck, tools and a little bit of know-how.

“When hiring a contractor of any description, you should always ensure they’re adequately licensed and registered with the relevant boards,” said Ray Brosnan of Brosnan Property Solutions

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Do Hire a Contractor Who Can Secure the Permits You’ll Need

If it’s the type of job that requires municipal permission, make sure any contractor you’re working with is ready and willing to secure the proper paperwork.

“Firstly, enquire as to whether or not this job will require a permit or planning permission,” Brosnan said. “Large scale jobs like additions to structures and major alterations usually require a permit, and a decent contractor will handle this entire process.”

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Don’t Wait Until the Permits Are in Hand

It’s good to know in advance what permits you’ll need — but securing them is not the first step in the process.

“Reach out to contractors as soon as you know you want to renovate or build,” said Ryan Meagher, business development manager and lead estimator for BVM Contracting. “Many people wait until they have permits to reach out to contractors, but this will put you at a disadvantage and will inevitably lead to a rushed decision about who to work with and not enough research or touch points. Reach out to a contractor as your first step in your renovation or home-building planning process. They will have directed many homeowners through the same process and will have valuable insight on how to navigate the process properly and will help you avoid costly mistakes.”

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Do Seek Someone Who Specializes in Your Project

When interviewing prospective hires, weed out anyone who doesn’t have a background in the specific type of work that you’re planning.

“Ask your contractor if this is a type of job they do often,” Brosnan said. “Experience is really key.”

Do Get Multiple Quotes

No matter the type of work, it’s always best to get several competitive bidding offers.

“This helps you compare potential contractors against one another,” said Jason Farr, president and owner of Aviara Pavers. “You won’t just have to rely on a few short meetings but assess their skill set and experience through their portfolios. It can save time and money.”

Soliciting multiple bids does more than just help you get the lowest price.

“This is not only about the individual quotes, but also to feel out the market,” said Jon Wiest of Ripped Jeans Construction. “Are all the quotes generally within the realm of your budget? If any are far lower or higher than the others, you’ll need to do some digging. Do all the estimates describe the scope of work as you understand it? What are the differences that might account for price disparities?”

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Don’t Make a Choice Based Only on Price

Once the bids are in, the least expensive estimate will always be the most tempting — but it won’t always be the best.

“Don’t just accept the lowest bid,” Farr said. “That’s because anyone lowballing may have a bad reputation in the market. This can automatically increase the cost of raw materials as they don’t have a well-established network. You can negotiate your final offer by meeting up with a prospective contractor.” 

Do Educate Yourself on What the Process will Look Like

You don’t have to become an expert in the type of work you’re scheduling — that’s what your contractor is for. But by learning as much as you can about the work you’re about to pay for, you can become actively involved in the process, which can help you make money-saving decisions.

“If you have a good understanding of what’s going to happen, you can ask follow-up questions to understand how the contractors will interact with you,” Wiest said. “Are they dismissive of your questions? Are they willing to be collaborators in this process? If everyone understands the same plan, it makes for fewer financial surprises later.”

Don’t Expect Instant Gratification

Make sure you enter into any project with realistic expectations — building materials have been in short supply and contractors have been backed up since the pandemic-era lumber shortage. 

“The trades are currently in high demand all across the country,” Wiest said. “You will more than likely have to wait to get started on your project. Use the time to do the research necessary to understand your project.”

Do Agree on a Payment Schedule Before Work Begins

Make sure you and your contractor agree in writing when payments will be made based on work-completion milestones. 

“When hiring a contractor, have a clearly defined payment schedule that is based on progress and not arbitrary dates,” said James Upton, bathroom remodeling specialist and founder of DIYTileGuy. “This way, the contractor has to complete certain tasks in order to receive a payment. This is fair for both parties.” 

Do Hire Local

Even if you have to pay a little more for the work, it’s crucial to choose a contractor who’s based in the area — you’ll probably wind up paying more in the long run if you go with an out-of-towner who bids lower.

“It is a benefit to the homeowner to have the work completed by a contractor who is local to their project,” Meagher said. “There will be time-saving efficiencies and the contractor will give the project more attention.” 

Don’t Do Anything Before You Have a Written Guarantee

No matter what happens, don’t choose a contractor who doesn’t guarantee the work — and never let that work begin before you have that promise on paper.

“Finally, ask your contractor for their service guarantee and get it in writing,” Brosnan said. “Most reputable tradesmen will have a warranty on their labor and the devices and fittings they use.”

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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