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Hiring A Contractor Guide: Checklist & Must Have Tips

As much as we love DIY, some tasks are too big and require the expertise of a contractor.

After all, hiring them will save you time, frustration, and money in the long run. Hiring someone to work on your home can be confusing and overwhelming — there are so many contractors, each with their unique specialties.

If you’re searching for the right contractor to tackle your next project, read on to learn everything you need to know about hiring a contractor.

Types Of Contractors

The first thing you need to do is decide what kind of contractor you need. Generally speaking, there are five categories of contractors:


General Contractor

A general contractor can manage the entire project — from the planning process to any applicable zoning and permitting and even the marketing and sales of your new addition. A general contractor is essentially your “one-stop shop” for everything construction, from framing and plumbing, to electrical and HVAC.


Specialty Contractor

If you need a specialty contractor, you are hiring someone for a specific thing. For example, if you need a plumber or an electrician to do a job in your home, you are hiring a specialty contractor.

Specialty contractors aren’t responsible for planning, marketing, or anything else — they only do the work you ask them to do.

Other specialty contractors handle specific builds. These contractors are similar to a general contractor, but focus their resources on a particular type of build (like an ADU builder or custom home builder).


Sub Contractor

A subcontractor is someone who specializes in one thing but works for a general contractor. For example, if a contractor needs an electrician on a job but doesn’t have one on their team, they will hire another contractor to do the electrical work.

How To Find The Right Contractor


Check Licensing And Reputation

Ensure the contractor you hire has the appropriate licensing and permits for the job. There are various contractors, but only some will do the actual work.

Others will serve in an administrative or supervisory role or draw up plans. You can face stiff fines and penalties if you do not have the appropriate licensing. Additionally, you want to ensure the contractor you hire has a good reputation.

Ask friends and family if they have anyone they’d recommend. You can also use review services like Yelp and Google, where people can leave feedback. You will be able to see if any red flags should make you steer clear.


Ask To See Past Work

Make sure you ask to see past work. Ask to see jobs that the contractor has done in the past. You’ll be able to see the quality of their work and get a better idea of what to expect for your project.

Ask to see the contract. If you are hiring a contracting company, you are hiring one person. Make sure you can see their contract. You want to make sure the contractor is responsible for their work. Make sure their contract has all the details for your project.


Don’t Forget The Big 3: Scope, Schedule, And Cost

Now that you’ve checked the contractor’s reputation and licensing, you’ve seen their past work, and know how much the project will cost; you’re ready to nail down the details of the project. First, you need to determine the scope of your project.

What exactly will the contractor be doing? What materials will be used? What parts of the house will be affected if you are doing a remodel? What area of your property will be affected if you are doing a new build? Be as detailed as possible, and make sure you include the placement of fixtures, the color scheme, etc.

Next, you need to nail down a schedule. How long will the project last? What are your plans during construction? Are there any unforeseen circumstances that could extend the project? Make sure you have a contingency plan in case something goes wrong.

Finally, you need to nail down the cost of the project. What is included in the contract? What is not included? Make sure you go over the contract line by line, so there are no misunderstandings.

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Don’t Forget To Ask For References And Background Checks

Before you sign the dotted line, ask for references. You can call them or visit them in person. References are people who have hired the contractor in the past and can tell you about their experience.

References can help put your mind at ease and give you a better idea of what to expect if you hire a contractor. Make sure you also perform a background check on the contractor.

You can do this by checking the contractor’s license and ensuring the contractor has a clean record. You can also check the Better Business Bureau to see if the contractor has a history of complaints.

Hiring A General Contractor Vs. A Specialized Contractor

At this point, you have your shortlist of contractors and an idea of what each contractor specializes in. Now it’s time to narrow it down by deciding if you want a general or specialized contractor.

A general contractor can manage the entire project — from the planning process to any applicable zoning and permitting and even the marketing and sales of your new addition. 

That said, if you need a specific type of work done, like plumbing, electrical, or HVAC, you will want to hire a specialized contractor. You can hire specialized contractors for one or two aspects of the project or a general contractor who hires specialized contractors for specific tasks throughout the project.

The choice is up to you, but you should consider your budget and timeline.

Contractor Vs. Contracting Company

Contracting companies are businesses that hire various contractors to do the work. They are usually much more prominent national companies.

If you hire a contracting company, you are essentially hiring one person. There is a risk to hiring a contracting company, as there could be a language barrier between you and the contractor that comes to your house to do the work.

An independent contractor is an individual who contracts with a company or individual to do a specific job. Independent contractors are usually local contractors too, and you will directly communicate with them regarding your home improvement project.

Things To Look For When Interviewing Potential Contractors

Before you sign on the dotted line, you should interview several contractors. Here are some things to look for when interviewing a potential contractor:


Dressed Appropriately

Contractors are generally on site a lot, so make sure they are appropriately dressed. This includes wearing gloves, steel-toe boots, appropriate footwear, and cleanliness. Contractors should also have all the right tools for the job at hand.


On Time

If a contractor is late for the interview, they will likely be late for the job. The contractor must arrive on time and be ready to start work when they say they will be prepared.


See How The Contractor Interacts With You

Does the contractor treat you with respect? Do they ask you questions? Do they listen to your concerns? The job site will be chaotic, and there will be a lot of noise. You need to ensure the contractor is someone you can communicate with easily and will listen to your concerns.


Asks Questions

A good contractor will ask questions to ensure they understand your needs. They will want to know about your project and what you want to be done. A good contractor should also ask about your timeline and budget to ensure they are within those parameters.


Stays Organized

Ensure the contractor has all your information, such as your address, phone number, and email. They should also have a list of questions for you. This shows that the contractor is organized and prepared.

The final payment should be on the written contract and related resources, so there are no misunderstandings.


Provides A Detailed Estimate

A detailed contract is the most important thing you will receive from your contractor. The contract should include the scope of work, a timeline, payment schedules, payment terms, final cost, and other important details. Quality materials and workmanship should also be listed in the contract.

The contractor should be able to give you a detailed estimate of the cost of the project. A reputable contractor will not try to lowball you with a low estimate and then charge you more later. The project cost and payment schedule should be written before any work is started. Down payment is usually half of the total project cost.


Has Insurance

Make sure the contractor has insurance, including liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance. This protects you if the contractor damages your property or if one of their employees is injured on the job. You don't want an unlicensed contractor working on your project.

The local consumer protection office and the Better Business Bureau are good places to check for complaints against contractors.

Contractor Checklist

When hiring a contractor, be sure to:

  • Get at least three bids
  • Check references
  • Get a written contract
  • Verify insurance coverage
  • Do not pay in full upfront

Bottom Line

When hiring a contractor, it’s important to do your research. Make sure you check references, perform a background check, and interview the contractor. It would be best if you also decided whether you want a general or specialized contractor.

And finally, make sure the contractor is organized and prepared and that they can provide a detailed estimate. Doing all this will help you hire the best contractor for your project.

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