How to Choose a Contractor for your Remodeling Project

Domestic CEO reveals 5 steps you need to take before hiring a contractor for your home improvement project. (Hint: The process is a lot like dating!)

Amanda Thomas
5-minute read
Episode #17

How to Choose a Contractor for your Remodeling Project

Congratulations! You’ve decided to remodel your home. Soon, it will be turned into your dream, with the perfect fixtures, paint, and spaces to fit your individual needs.

But first, you have to go through the remodeling process. And it sucks. Yep, I said it. Don’t believe me? Talk to that coworker you know who just remodeled his kitchen, but start by asking him about the last vacation he took. See how he has a relaxed smile as he tells you about the beautiful beaches? See how his eyes sparkle as he talks about the zip line he did with his wife and kids? Now ask him about his last home remodeling project. Notice how the sparkle disappears and his voice loses all energy as he tells you, “It wasn’t too bad, I guess.” That’s because the process is not fun. The only thing that will make your home remodeling project anything less than horrible is if you have a great general contractor to take care of all the details.


But how do you find a great general contractor? Think of it like a marriage. You’re going to have a very close relationship with this person, especially if your project involves more than just a quick paint and lighting change. You’ll have to put a lot of trust in his skills. You’ll have miscommunications, arguments, make-up sessions (minus the nooky), and hopefully at the end of the day, you’ll still like each other.

Sounds a lot like marriage, right? Well, pick your contractor like you pick your mate. You wouldn’t just marry the first person who popped up on your computer screen, would you? No! You would put effort and research into finding the right person to spend your life with. I would encourage you to do the same with the man (or woman) who is going to give you the home of your dreams. How will you do this? With these 5 simple tips!

Tip #1: Get Fixed Up

Some of the best relationships can come from being introduced by a close friend or family member. When looking for a contractor, start by asking your friends and family members if they can recommend anyone. Other good people to ask are the other service providers who work in your home. You may not think that your house cleaner or carpet cleaner has their finger on the pulse of the home remodeling industry, but it’s likely those service providers have good working relationships with at least one or two contractors. After all, they work in a lot of homes, and have probably seen a few remodels in their time. They can likely connect you with a contractor who has done work for one of their other clients.

Just like you wouldn’t agree to a random blind date, don’t take someone’s word that their contractor is the one you should use. Ask lots of questions to see if you even want to meet with the contractor. Things to ask are: How do you know this person? Has he done work for you? Why are you recommending him to me? If you get answers like, “He’s my brother-in-law,” or “He’s been really down on his luck, and I’d really like to help him,” those can be HUGE red flags. That’s not to say that a brother-in-law can’t do good work, it just means that the person referring him to you is likely a little biased. It’s like a date’s mom bragging to you about how smart her child is. Take it with a grain of salt, and do your research on all referrals.

Tip #2: Practice Safe ____

When you’re out there in the dating world, you always want to make sure you have protection. The same is true in the world of general contractors. The things you need him to show you are his Register of Contractors License, his liability insurance, and his bonding insurance. These three items will ensure that you as the homeowner are protected if anything is stolen or broken, if the contractor disappears after taking your deposit, or even if the project which was supposed to take 3 months has turned into 3 years. I would NEVER recommend working with a contractor who couldn’t provide proof of having all three of these items.

You're going to have a very close relationship with this person, especially if your project involves more than just a quick paint and lighting change.

Also, check for aliases. You can Facebook-stalk and Google search the people you date, but how do you know if a contractor is shady? Start with the Register of Contractor’s license, then search for other businesses owned by the primary owner of the company. It’s not uncommon for bad contractors to ditch their old business name and start a new company after running the old one into the ground or to avoid a lawsuit from unhappy customers. This slimy practice is common knowledge in the industry, but most consumers have no idea. Red flags are when one person has multiple company names associated with them. They are usually using alias business names to hide their poor performance record. Remove these contractors from your interview process immediately!

Tip #3: Have the Money Talk

Before you commit to a spouse, you make sure that you are on the same page with money, right? Well once you have narrowed down your search to the top 3 or 4 contractors, it’s time to make sure you are on the same page financially, too. Go over every little detail of the project with your top picks of contractors. When they give you an estimate, make sure their estimates all contain equal amounts of detail. If one contains less detail, there is more chance for a “misunderstanding” later in the process that will require a Change Order. This is contractor speak for, “You didn’t tell me you wanted that, and now it’s going to cost a lot more.” By making sure all the details of your project are documented on each estimate, you’ll be able to make the best choice for your budget.

Tip #4: Talk to His Exes

Now, you probably didn’t ask your spouse to talk to his exes before you got married, but it’s likely that you did get to meet one or two at some point. If they had wonderful things to say, you would feel reassured about your choice. If they had nasty things to say, you would probably start to wonder about the reasons for this bitterness. When it comes to contractors, it is always appropriate to ask to speak with their former clients. Even better, ask to see some of their past work. Most good general contractors have a list of clients who are happy to open their homes for a tour of their finished project. To make sure that he really did the work, you can ask to see pictures of the process. Otherwise you are just taking his word that this was a home he worked on.

Tip #5: Trust Your Gut

Besides these tips, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to trust your gut. If anything makes you uncomfortable or if you feel that you can’t trust a contractor, RUN away as fast as you can. For every good contractor out there, there’s at least one bad one who will either do a crappy job or leave you with heartache (and a depleted bank account). Make sure you have every reason to trust your contractor, and you will able to love the home he creates for you.

Do you have a question about anything in this episode? How about a contractor horror story or love story? Let me know in comments or send me an email at DomesticCEO@quickanddirtytips.com. Or you can post your comments on the Domestic CEO Facebook wall or on my Twitter feed!

Until next time, I’m the Domestic CEO, helping you love your home.

Contractor image courtesy of Shutterstock