Choose a Home Improvement Contractor

A home improvement project can be very stressful. Make it less stressful by choosing your contractor carefully. The key to success is to check out everything you can about the contractor before you part with your money.


  1. Check with friends who have done similar work to the job that you are contemplating. See how satisfied they were with the contractor. If you don't have any friends who had that type of work done, look in another location, like, Yelp, the Yellow Pages, or even Craig's List
  2. Before you even start calling the contractors, check for references. On social media sites, reviews come up when you search for a service. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)in your area. See if there are any unresolved complaints with a given contractor. Choose one that has no record of complaints, or one where the complaint was resolved to the consumer's satisfaction. Be aware that a new contractor or one that changed his legal name to dodge complaints may not have any record of complaints with the BBB, so it is important to follow all of these steps.
  3. Call contractors and get bids. Be sure to give the job details the same way with each contractor so you won't be comparing "apples and oranges". Get a list of references, that is recently completed jobs the contractor has done that are similar to yours.
  4. Select the best bid. The best bid is not always the lowest, as the quality of materials may differ. Examine the proposals carefully.
  5. Call the references given by the contractor you picked. See how satisfied the customers were with the job. If there were complaints about the job, or the contractor was unable to give any references, consider the "second best" bid instead.
  6. Verify that the contractor you choose is licensed.
  7. Read the contract carefully. Make sure that the contractor has liability insurance and that his employees are covered by workman's compensation. Ask questions about anything you don't understand, and don't be shy about asking for changes to the contract. You are the customer.
    • Make sure the contract lists specifics of your job. List brand names of supplies, type and quantity of items to be installed, etc. Will your contractor do the painting after something is installed or subcontract with somebody else, or leave you to secure the painting?
    • Include cleanup and debris removal in the contract.
    • Note any follow-up or guarantees the contract provides.
  8. Obtain a liability of insurance certificate made out in your name. The insurance companies give these out on a regular basis. Do not be timid to ask for it. It is the only sure proof of insurance no matter what is written on the truck!
  9. Make sure that the contractor obtains any necessary building permits. If he/she will be digging, make sure he/she checks underground utilities.
  10. Once you are satisfied with the contract, sign it and give the contractor his deposit by check. If you decide to give a cash deposit, be sure to get a receipt.
    • On many projects there is no need to give a deposit. In any case, do not let the payments get ahead of the job. Payment should be done on a completed basis: say the job is 25% done (the contract should describe what that is), then pay 25%, etc. The only exception is for customized material which a contractor cannot return.


  • All else being equal, a contractor that is large enough to have a real person answering the phone during normal business hours is a better bet than a "one man band" that has all of his calls go to voice mail or an answering service.
  • Do not pay cash. Payment by just about any other means produces a record of the payment that may be helpful to have should a dispute arise.
  • You may find that you can find no contractor that hasn't had some complaints. If this is the case, choose the one with the fewest complaints, and look for a statement in the BBB report that says "the amount of complaints is average for this type of business".


  • Be aware that if the contractor does not have workman's compensation insurance and a worker gets hurt on your job, you could be held responsible! Likewise, if he damages your neighbor's property and he doesn't have liability insurance. For extra peace of mind, ask the contractor the name of his insurance company and call that insurance company to verify that he does have liability and workman's compensation coverage currently in force.
  • Do not pay for the full job in advance. Most contractors on small projects will require a small deposit upon signing, half upon actually beginning the job and the remainder on completion. On larger jobs, such as a room addition, the payment will be broken into thirds at certain "benchmarks", such as one third upon beginning, a third upon completion of framing, rough plumbing and rough electrical, and the final third upon completion.
  • Do not rely on verbal promises. Get everything in writing. That way, there will be no misunderstandings and your position will be much stronger if, heaven forbid, you have to go to court to resolve a problem.

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