House Upgrade: 7 Key Tips for Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

Interviewing is just one tip for hiring a home improvement contractor. Keep reading for house upgrade: 7 key tips for hiring a home improvement contractor.

You may think the hardest part of a house upgrade project is having your home in a mess while your contractor tears out walls or moves plumbing.

For most homeowners, it’s not the work or the mess, it’s finding a reliable contractor for the job.

Choosing the ideal contractor often means the difference between a beautifully finished project and a disaster.

Read on for seven tips that should make hiring the contractor for your project easier.

1. Start with a Plan

Start with a Plan

You have a dream. It includes a stunning new master bath or a finished basement. Maybe you’ve even sketched out your dream on paper.

While most home improvement projects start with a dream, you can’t expect your contractor to work solely with a dream.

Before you talk to any prospective contractors, work with a professional interior designer or architect. They’ll put together a project plan. You’ll show it to your contractor.

A plan ensures both you and the contractor know what you want. The contractor should have the plan in hand while walking through your space with you. Now, your contractor has enough specifics to create an accurate estimate for the cost of the job.

Once you’ve completed the project plan, you’re ready to find your contractor.

2. Where Do You Find Home Improvement Contractors?

Unless you’ve already hired people for this kind of work, you probably won’t know where to start looking.

Start with friends, relatives, and co-workers. Ask them for referrals, especially those people who have already done similar home renovation projects.

If you know people who work in one of the building trades, ask them who they know. If you can get access, talk to a building inspector. Inspectors know which contractors consistently meet building code requirements.

Finally, ask at your local home improvement store or lumber yard. Sometimes those businesses keep contractor’s business cards at the service desk.

Never hesitate to find out more about a contractor by visiting their website, and, of course, checking references.

3. Do They Have References?

We won’t discuss interviews, since interviewing contractors is a given. Assuming you’ve interviewed at least three contractors and selected one who you feel fits your needs best, it’s time for reference checks.

Even if you selected a contractor based on a referral from a friend or your designer, it won’t hurt to go the extra step and ask for references. A good contractor, who’s proud of their work won’t hesitate to share references of a few satisfied clients.

Go beyond the happy clients and check the contractor’s online reviews. One word of caution about online reviews: don’t give them as much weight as you give people you can talk to over the phone or face-to-face.

As part of the reference check process, ask to see the contractor’s portfolio. Even better? Ask if you can see, in person, a completed project.

4. Do Your Due Diligence


Your research doesn’t stop with checking a contractor’s references. While you’re expected to be an expert, learn as much as you can about your project, and home renovations, in general.

If you’ve done your own research, you already know the importance of hiring the right contractor for the right project. Your brother-in-law’s tile contractor may not be the ideal choice for your new plumbing installation. The contractor who framed out your neighbor’s garage might know very little about converting an attic to an office space.

In addition to knowing which contractors take care of various renovation tasks, make sure you know what permits your city requires. Find out what regulations your city building code has for your remodeling project.

Your contractor is responsible for applying for permits. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what’s going on in with them. We’ve all heard stories about projects coming to a halt because someone didn’t take out the proper permits.

5. Get it in Writing

Get it in Writing

The road to completing a successful home upgrade project begins with a contract. Contracts outline the terms of your project and protect you and your contractor should anything go wrong.
Even if you’ve hired your best friend or your niece or nephew, don’t let a project begin without a written contract. While we won’t dig deeply into contracts, here are a few things you should include on yours:

  • Contractor’s Contact Information
  • Project Details
  • Timeline
  • Payment Terms
  • Permits
  • Penalties for Missed Deadlines
  • Costs and Materials

The contract should include proof of any required trade licenses. Some cities do require contractors to hold various licenses. Also, include proof of bonding and insurance.

Be aware this isn’t a comprehensive list of what all home renovation contracts include. You’ll also want a termination clause and a lien release. Depending on the size of your project, you may want to consult with an attorney who specializes in contract law.

6. Discuss the Payment Schedule

Discuss the Payment Schedule

Don’t wait until the starting day to determine payment expectations. Work out the payment schedule before the contractor begins any work.

When you signed the contract, you likely paid a deposit. Deposits aren’t meant to cover the cost of materials to start the job. You certainly didn’t pay in full for the project.

A reasonable payment schedule might look like this:

  • A deposit of 10% when you sign the contract.
  • Three evenly spaced payments of 25%.
  • One final payment of 15%.

It’s better if you pay the final payment after you go through the punch list at the end of the project. This ensures the contractor has satisfied each item on the list.

You’ll pay each of the three payments (25%) after completion of certain project milestones. You should have already addressed the milestones in your written contract.

Hint: The Federal Trade Commission offers this advice about paying for home renovation projects.  They suggest charging the costs, if possible. This can protect you if your project runs into major problems, or your contractor doesn’t finish the job.

7. You Get What You Pay For

We all want the best value for our money, especially when investing in a major home improvement endeavor.

That said, the lowest bid isn’t always your best option.

Low bids sometimes mean a contractor uses sub-par building materials. It could also indicate the contractor cuts corners.

When it comes to your project, choose the contractor who communicates well with you and who you feel 100% comfortable inviting into your home. It’s often better to spend a little more and hire the best person for the job.

Ready for Your Next House Upgrade Project?

Now that you know a few things about hiring the right contractor, it’s time to get started on your house upgrade.

If you’ve put together a plan, verified references, talked about payment, and put everything in writing, you’re ready, right? Well, not exactly.

We’re just getting started. If you enjoyed this post, our archives are your next stop. You’ll find articles on every aspect of home improvement projects. Happy reading!

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