How to Hire a Contractor for Your Home

How to Hire a Contractor

When we bought this house back in 2005, it was almost perfect.  The only thing that we didn’t love was the deck.  It was small, poorly constructed, and in a state of disrepair.  We lived with it for a while, but after my parents redid their deck this past summer, we revisited the idea of doing a brand new deck.  We wanted something great – not just a newer version of the old deck, which is why we waited so long.  It wasn’t going to be cheap.

Everyone knows that the best way to hire a contractor (or any service provider for that matter) is to get a recommendation from someone you trust, so when my parents really liked their contractor, we decided to get a quote from them.  We also got other local recommendations and quotes, but ended up with my parent’s contractor, because they really loved them and the price was right.

Until it wasn’t….  first, they wanted more money for materials because they’d underestimated what they needed.  I gave them a check right away.  They accidentally cut our cable TV connection and part of our sprinkler system.  They failed to show up one day that they were supposed to come.  They regularly came late and left early.  They took a check for thousands of dollars for materials and then I didn’t hear from them for weeks.  I was annoyed but happy with the progress of the deck.

They were almost finished last Friday, but then they realized they’d need to return on Saturday to finish a few things.  We wouldn’t be home, so they told me they’d return on Monday to give us the final bill.  Then an offhand remark, “We’ll have to add some labor and some materials.  This was harder than we expected.”

I got the final bill and was shocked.  They charged more than double their quote for labor, and the materials came out to what the entire original quote was.  We eventually negotiated a more fair price but it was a very unsettling situation.  I took to Twitter and Facebook to complain, and got some great advice I’d like to pass along for those who want to hire a contractor for their home.  All of these tips are directly from Dave Bouvier, from Bouvier Interior Woodworking in RI.

  • Protect yourself by only hiring contractors who are insured and registered with your state: Hiring un-registered/un-insured contractors puts you at tremendous financial risk. If the contractor is injured YOU may be responsible for his medical bills. If the un-licensed contractor does damage to your home, it may not be covered by your homeowners policy!  Every state government site has a place where you can verify a contractor’s registration (MA for example:
  • If the contractor has employees that will be working on the job, make he or she carriers workmen’s compensation insurance.
  • No matter how small the job, always make sure you sign a contract. Make sure you get everything in writing.  (In RI and MA any job over $1000, a contract is REQUIRED) The contract should state what the contractor will and will NOT do, the start and completion dates, and the total price and how the payments are to be dispersed (deposit through final payments).
  • There can sometimes be unforeseen issues (This could be something like water damage, a plumbing or electrical problem or other structural issue that could not be seen until after removing cabinets or a wall, etc.) A good contractor will not do any other work until notifying the customer of the issue, and what needs to be done to fix it, before continuing.  Some may require additional labor and expenses, if so, make another written agreement for the additional work.
  • Ask around, and get referrals. Do your homework. You can check the Better Business Bureau and with your state’s Contractor Registration board to see if the contractor has any complaints.
  • Get two or three bids.  Don’t always jump for the lowest bid.  Sometimes a higher bid may be worth it for high quality products and workmanship.
  • Trust your gut when you meet a contractor. If you don’t feel comfortable with them, don’t use them.
  • Explain to the contractor what you want done and have them explain how they’ll complete the job in full detail-start to finish. If they don’t seem to know what they are talking about, odds are they don’t.
  • At the completion of the job, before making the final payment, verify that everything is completed to your satisfaction and in proper working order. Don’t be afraid to ask them to fix/adjust something.

HomeAdvisor also has a few blog posts with recommendations on how to hire a contractor.

Luckily, we’re happy with the work done to our deck, and we didn’t end up paying that entire large bill.  But I still wish we’d had a better situation.  Hopefully, these tips will help you!





  1. Sally says

    Everyone always begins with “ask for recommendations.” But what if you’re new in town and don’t know anyone to ask??

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