Finding the Perfect Contractor

Some of us have family friends, relatives, or old associates that are in the building business, and they are a great place to start when consulting about a home-improvement project. For those of us who don’t even know where to begin the search for a contractor in the Irish Hills, here’s our foolproof checklist to finding to right one for the job.

1. Ask around

The best references usually come from family, friends, colleagues, and building professionals you trust. Also, refer to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry ( for a list of contractors in your area.

2. Interview prospects

Once you have your list of contractors in hand, give them a call. Make sure you ask the following questions:

  • Are they taking on projects of your size?
  • Will they provide financial references from banks or suppliers and a list of clients and their contact information?
  • How many other projects would they be working on at the same time as yours?
  • How long have they worked with their current suppliers and subcontractors?

3. Meet the contractors

Based on the recommendations and phone interviews, choose three to four to meet in person. Verify references with your state’s consumer protection agency and local Better Business Bureau to make sure the contractors are in good standing with their subcontractors and clients.

4. Assess the facts

Once you’ve narrowed your list, put all your research to use. Contact former clients to learn how their projects turned out. If possible, visit a current job site for a first-hand look at how the contractor works.

5. Make plans and get bids

If everything checks out, get estimates on costs. Conscientious contractors will ask for a complete set of blueprints as well as the client’s expectations for the project, including a budget. Compare bids by asking each prospect to break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins, and other expenses. In mot cases, 40 percent of the total cost is materials, with the rest going to overhead and profit margin, which is usually 15 to 20 percent.

6. Set a payment schedule

A payment schedule is a good way to add incentive markers to getting your project done on time. A reputable contractor typically asks for 10 percent to get started on a large project and three 25 percent payments spaced evenly over the duration of the project. The final 15 percent is paid once the work has been done to your satisfaction.

7. Don’t go by price alone

Most pros suggest eliminating the lowest bid, which can be an indication that the contractor is cutting corners or desperate for work. Even if the contractor meets all technical requirements, trust your gut and go with the one you like best.

8. Require a contract

Putting everything in writing helps manage expectations and protects both parties. Insist on a payment schedule, proof of liability insurances and workers’s compensation payments, a start date, a projected completion date, and specific products and materials to be used. Additionally, require that the contractor obtain lien releases, which protect you if he doesn’t pay his bills, from all suppliers and subcontractors.

9. Watch out for change orders

Any variation in agreed-upon plans has big potential to increase the price and the duration of the project.
In any circumstance, just be smart about where your money is going. Do your research and trust your gut. Finding the right contractor for your project doesn’t have to be stressful. Once you establish a relationship, getting projects done in the future will be easier than ever.