This post was another reader request, and while we tackle 95% of our home renovations ourself, there are certainly times we hire out certain projects- like our recent roof replacement. Having worked in the interior design industry for many years, I think I’ve worked with enough contractors and trade professionals to share some valuable insight in regards to hiring good, reliable help. From finding the right contractor for the job to interviewing them, explaining your project, getting started, and managing expectations through the duration of the project, I’m spilling my best tips! Click through and definitely save this one for later… I hope it’s a good resource.
Finding the Right Contractor…
- Understand what type of contractor you need. Did you know there are different types of contractors? Just like other professionals, they have trade specialities. Understanding what type of contractor you need for your project, and what they specialize in is very important. For example, a finishing carpenter focuses on finishing details, like millwork. A mason would be the ideal contractor for exterior brick work and stone structures. A general contractor may be the best fit for a remodel because they do a little bit of everything. An electrician is obviously an expert in running electrical, a plumber tackles plumbing, and so on.
- Utilize word of mouth referrals. The best contractors I’ve found usually come from trusted sources- friends, family members, neighbors, and community apps (like NextDoor), etc. Word of mouth referrals are always the best place to start!
- Scout your neighborhood. I’m always observing our neighborhood and notice when neighbors are having renovation work done. I’ll snap photos of work trucks with phone numbers on the side, swing by for a business card, and ask neighbors about their experience. We actually just did this last week. One of our neighbors had a concrete retaining wall poured and we’ll be doing that in our backyard someday. Emmett stopped in to ask for a business card.
- Rely on reviews, portfolios, and social media. I always look at reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and the contractor’s website. In addition to the reviews, I also scour their social media platforms and portfolios to see if the type of work they do looks like a good fit, based on visuals and aesthetics.
- Consider hiring an interior designer. If you’re looking for a top notch contracting team and you also need design help- hiring an interior designer could get you all of the above with zero effort. Full service designers typically have their own preferred and vetted trade team, that might even be able to get you on the schedule more quickly. Of course this only works if you need interior services as well… just FYI- never ask an interior designer to share their contractor contact information. That’s bad etiquette when they make their living working alongside their team! Most will never share their resources, but it’s rude to ask. You can read more about what it’s like to work with an interior designer in this post.
Once you’ve compiled a list of contractors to call, here are some basic questions to ask…
Questions to Ask…
- Insurance, licensing, certification, and credibility. Always begin by asking for proof of insurance, a contractors license (if applicable), any certifications that are needed, and make sure all items are up-to-date.
- Subcontractors. You should also ask about their subcontractors and how long they’ve been working together. Are they expected to work on your project alongside your contractor?
- References. Make sure you also ask for references- especially for projects that might be similar to your own.
- Your project. Explain what your project entails and what you had envisioned. Make sure they feel comfortable with the scope of the project.
- Timing. Discuss timing and ask about their current lead-time or calendar. Be realistic about availability!
- Estimates or a formal bid. If you feel confident with the contractor and could see yourself hiring them, always request a formal bid or estimate. Make sure it looks professional and everything has been accounted for. I never accept a verbal estimate… always ask for a hard copy.
It’s worth interviewing multiple contractors to see which one is the best fit. Before you decide, here are some things to consider…
Before Deciding on The Best Contractor for Your Project…
- Interview multiple contractors. Meeting face-to-face is the best way to choose a contractor (safely of course, because I do realize we’re in a pandemic). Invite them to the job site- your home, to see the project in person, and to get a feel for their communication skills. Take note if they are prompt or late, how quickly they’re able to meet, and how the overall meeting goes.
- Due diligence. Review their provided proof of insurance, licenses, certifications, quotes, referrals, etc. Make sure they have all of their ducks in a row.
- Plan ahead. Based on their availability, review your timeline and take a look at the schedule. Remember- the good contractors are always worth waiting on! The best ones usually book quickly, so plan ahead.
- Finalize your budget and review the estimate. We always allow the contractor to give us an estimate first (before throwing out any numbers). We never share the budget before getting a bid because that could effect the quote. With that said, understanding what your project might cost is very important, so that you go in with a realistic budget that won’t waste your future contractor’s time.
You’ve landed on the right contractor for your job, now what?
- Sign the contract. You’ll typically approve your bid by signing a contract that outlines the scope of the project, the price, the timeline, permits, etc.
- Pay your contract deposit. Before a contractor adds you to their schedule, they most likely require a deposit of some sort, which is usually outlined in the contract.
- Set the timeline. After approving the project and paying your deposit- you’ll set dates on the calendar to get started or hold your place.
- Discuss permits, if applicable. Get proper permits or assist your contractor in doing so, if they need any information from you.
- Tackle prep. Before the project begins, you can begin prepping your home prior to the contractor’s arrival. I like to move furniture and decor out of the way, clear a space in the driveway, etc. You can discuss the work zone and ask the contractor if there is anything you can do to prepare beforehand. Most contractors put down floor protection, plastic areas off, and create a designated work zone to contain the best, but mitigating the mess in secondary areas is also key and something you can do on your own.
You’re feeling organized and excited to get started… here are some tips to make your project run more smoothly.
During the project…
- Over communicate. Communication is KEY in a successful contractor partnership. I always print specifics, diagrams, and thoroughly explain my vision with visual examples. Map out sizes, accurately relay your thoughts, choose finishes & colors in advance, and pass all of the important information along to your contractor as you have it.
- Be respectful and realistic. Don’t confuse over communicating with micro managing. You hired your contractor because they’re fantastic at their job. Be respectful of their time and allow them to do their job without your hovering. You also have to be realistic. With nearly all construction projects comes the unexpected. Expect the unexpected and understand that is part of the process and is out of your contractor’s control. Which brings me to my next point…
- Try to be flexible, if needed. If a project lasts a little longer than expected, try to be flexible and appreciate that your contractor isn’t cutting corners. If the plan slightly changes, pivot and improvise. Flexibility can really help the project outcome!
- Check-in. Ask your contractor if they need any information from you, check-in with them regularly, and ask for updates as the project progresses. Usually at the end of each day, the contractor will provide an update or ask any questions they might have.
- Be kind! I always treat our contractors like friends. I make small talk, ask questions because I enjoy learning and am genuinely interested, I offer them water or our facilities if they’re needed, and I use good manners (say thank you, etc). Creating a good relationship with your contractor is important so they’ll work with you again in the future. It also incentivizes them to do a good job for you!
Hopefully at this point, your project is finished and you’re pleased with the end result. What should you do once a project is completed, to ensure you maintain a good relationship with the contractor you hired?
After the project…
- Complete payment. Pay the remainder of your contract balance, in a timely manner.
- Leave a review. Based on your (hopefully positive) experience, leave reviews on their preferred platforms.
- Keep their contact info. Keep the contractor’s information for future projects and share it with friends or family members who are tackling similar projects. They’ll be appreciative for the referral!
- File important paperwork. Store your receipts, warranties, and permits in a safe place for future reference or resale someday. Certain projects could even be eligible for rebates or kickbacks (like energy efficiency programs, etc). Be sure to collect or take advantage of any incentives!
I get a LOT of messages saying, “You’re so lucky to have a handy husband!” or “It must be nice that Emmett can do all of this work himself.” It’s true… I feel very lucky to have my own personal contractor, who happens to be my spouse. He really is amazing and I have no idea how he’s capable of some of these things. Although… hey- I do some renovation work too, friends! Ha! I’m just usually on the other side of the camera. I think we make a good team. In all seriousness- while it is wonderful that he’s really great at most renovation projects and as a couple we’re not afraid to take the DIY route, there are certainly times when it’s a better investment for us to hire a professional. It’s not easy to find good help and takes a lot of time, but once you find those amazing people- hang onto them and help them thrive!
Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts to add! We value and appreciate all of the amazing contractors we’ve hired over the years. From brick masons to roofers, there are some seriously talented people who do fantastic work that we’re not capable or have time to tackle ourselves. We’d hire them again in a heartbeat and keep their contact info handy for future projects, while passing them along to friends & family in the meantime. I feel like this basic philosophy of being kind, honest, and helping other small business owners in the community thrive, is key in keeping a solid list of reliable contractors you can call and count on when the time comes. Happy Tuesday, friends! I hope that was helpful if you’re planning to hire a contractor.