In today’s do-it-yourself (DIY) age, we are often fooled into thinking we can tackle all our home improvement projects with just a little help from Pinterest and YouTube.
However, even experienced DIYers eventually stumble across a project or two that requires a little professional help. While you may be able to hire the local handyman for odd jobs, bigger projects will require you to know how to hire a contractor – and a good one at that.
A quick Google search of contractors in your area will likely turn up hundreds — if not thousands — of results. But “contractor” can mean a lot of things. Are you looking for someone to build a whole house? Just to handle some minor electrical work? To add a deck out back?
Plus, keep in mind that contractors vary widely in cost, efficiency, and quality. This is why it’s so important to do some searching before hiring a contractor, regardless of the size of your project.
Finding one isn’t as easy as making a single phone call or hiring the first person who pops up on Google. Finding a competent contractor actually takes a lot of time, legwork, and energy. In the end, though, it’s worth your while to spend some time searching for the perfect person or company… that way, you’ll end up with someone who will get the job done right the first time, without costing an arm and a leg.
Not sure where to begin? Use this process to find the best contractor for your next project.
Know What You Need
Before you even run a Google search for contractors in your area, be sure you know what you actually need. “Contractor” is a general term, and hiring the wrong type can make your project more expensive.
When many people think of contractors, they’re thinking of general contractors. These are companies or individuals who typically handle larger building or renovation projects. Depending on the company, they likely do some of the work in-house, but subcontract some of it to specialists.
For instance, a general contractor might keep a carpenter, drywall crew, and electrician on their own payroll. But if your project also requires plumbing, they’ll hire out a subcontractor to do this work.
When you work with a general contractor, you’re paying, in part, for project management. Good general contractors are excellent at laying out the timeline of a project and coordinating all the moving parts. This is the best way to get things done as efficiently as possible.
You could do some of this management yourself. But chances are you have no idea how long it’ll take an electrician to install your fancy new kitchen light fixtures, or which step comes directly after that electrical work.
When you’ve got a big project in mind — especially one involving multiple moving parts — a general contractor is often worth the cost. They may even save you money by more efficiently hiring subcontractors and negotiating to pay them less for the time involved in your project.
But what if you have a smaller job in mind? In this case, it may not make sense to hire a general contractor who will hire just one or two subcontractors. You might save money by managing the project yourself.
Say, for instance, you’re renovating a bathroom. You’ve got some DIY experience laying tile and doing finish work, so you’re going to cut costs by doing that yourself. You just need a plumber to come move the bathroom sink and an electrician to install two new outlets. In this case, you may be better off hiring those two specialists independently.
Still, it’s always good to check pricing. Consider getting quotes from a general contractor as well as individual electricians and plumbers during your search.
The Internet is an excellent way to search for contractors. Put together your original list online, and then use the internet to more deeply vet each contractor on your list.
Now that you have some idea of what type of contractor you’re looking for, you can be more specific in your search. For instance, you can look for “general contractors in [city]” or “plumbers in [city],” depending on your project.
Learn More: Fixer Upper: 4 Ways to Pay for Your Remodel
Don’t just go by the top Google results for a search, though. Often times, the best handymen haven’t yet caught on to the Internet age. The best local contractor may not have a great website that turns up high in your search.
You can find additional information through sources like Angie’s List, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Angie’s List provides vetted consumer reviews and ratings of all sorts of local service providers. This resource, however, may work best for people who live in or near larger cities. Listings can be thin for rural areas, especially.
While Yelp is more focused on brick-and-mortar businesses — like restaurants, amusement parks, and the like — you can occasionally find great services providers. The great thing about this site is that it’s free, you don’t have to sign up to view listings, and you can see a number of real reviews from past customers. You may get lucky and even find some before-and-after photos that someone was kind enough to share.
The Better Business Bureau, on the other hand, is a great resource for all sorts of areas. You don’t have to pay to access these listings. And many contractors who don’t otherwise have websites will have a listing with their local BBB.
Angie’s List will likely provide more robust reviews than the BBB website, and more contractors than Yelp. Often times, you’ll only find highly negative BBB ratings for various businesses. But you can find good reviews there. You’ll also see if anyone has filed an official complaint with the BBB about that particular business.
Once you get a list of potential contractors who will fit the bill, ask friends, family, and co-workers about their experiences with local contractors.
Recommendations or negative experiences can help you weed out the bad and focus on the reliable. Plus, references will help you get a better idea of how contractors work. Even great contractors may have their quirks, and knowing what to expect can help you establish a better working relationship right away.
One way to broaden your request is on Facebook. You can now ask your FB friends for recommendations to local businesses online, which makes the process even easier.
Check your current network of friends, or join a local chat group. Local groups can help you get recommendations from others in your area whom you may not know personally. But people who have had a great experience with a contractor will often invite you to direct message them for details about their experience.
Finally, check out local sites like NextDoor. This is a relatively new platform, similar to an online message board for people in your neighborhood. Check if your area has a NextDoor site. If so, sign up and use it to garner more personal recommendations for your project.
Interview and Get Quotes
One essential part of the contractor selection process is meeting the potential contractor in person.
During this meeting, you’ll be able to determine if you feel comfortable communicating with the contractor and will have the opportunity to go over the project with him/her. This way, they are well aware of the work that needs to be done, and there will be no surprises for either of you.
It’s a good idea, if possible, to meet in your home. That way, you can walk the potential contractor through the project, step by step.
Additionally, request a formal, written quote for your home improvement project. Obtaining a written quote will ensure both parties are on the same page as to the work that must be completed. This will also give you a chance to see how professionally the contractor has prepared the quote. If someone takes pride in preparing a quote, they will probably take pride in completing the actual work.
Ask that the quote be itemized, especially if you are planning a large project. It’s amazing how easily you can tell whether or not a contractor is really listening to you by what appears–or doesn’t appear–on an itemized quote.
Compare Multiple Quotes
You’ll want to compare quotes from at least two or three contractors. The larger and more expensive your project, the more contractors you’ll want to speak with before choosing one. Again, an itemized quote can help you get an apples-to-apples comparison of exactly which services a contractor is offering.
For instance, will they do all the necessary demolition and cleanup for your project? Have they included dumpster placement and rental fees in the quote, if needed? What kinds of finishes on tile, cabinets, countertops, and hardware are they allowing for? How much time do they estimate the project will take to complete?
Once you have all the quotes in hand, you can compare them to see who is offering the most value for your money. Be sure, of course, to combine this knowledge with the vetting you did earlier. A cut-rate contractor isn’t worth your while if they’re going to do shoddy work with cheap materials!
Check for Licensing
Licensing associations can be an excellent way to locate contractors. It also allows you to investigate whether or not the contractor you have found is, in fact, licensed as he/she claims.
It’s important that any contractor you select is licensed to do the required work. Check the Contractor’s License Reference Site where you can find out the requirements by state and check to see which contractors are legitimate before moving forward. It is also important that the contractor you ultimately select is bonded and/or insured.
Resource: 1,000 Ideas for Remodeling Your Kitchen
It’s hard to find a contractor and tricky to tell the good from the bad. Hopefully the above recommendations will put you on the right track to selecting the appropriate contractor for your next project.