Tips for Finding, Hiring, & Managing Reliable Contractors

Tips for Finding, Hiring, & Managing Reliable Contractors - roomfortuesday.comThis 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. 

Tips for Finding, Hiring, & Managing Reliable Contractors -

Finding the Right Contractor…
  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Tips for Finding, Hiring, & Managing Reliable Contractors - roomfortuesday.comOnce you’ve compiled a list of contractors to call, here are some basic questions to ask…

Questions to Ask…
  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. References. Make sure you also ask for references- especially for projects that might be similar to your own.
  4. Your project. Explain what your project entails and what you had envisioned. Make sure they feel comfortable with the scope of the project.
  5. Timing. Discuss timing and ask about their current lead-time or calendar. Be realistic about availability!
  6. 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.

Tips for Finding, Hiring, & Managing Reliable Contractors - roomfortuesday.comIt’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…
  1. 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.
  2. Due diligence. Review their provided proof of insurance, licenses, certifications, quotes, referrals, etc. Make sure they have all of their ducks in a row.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Tips for Finding, Hiring, & Managing Reliable Contractors - roomfortuesday.comYou’ve landed on the right contractor for your job, now what?

Getting started…
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Discuss permits, if applicable. Get proper permits or assist your contractor in doing so, if they need any information from you.
  5. 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.

Tips for Finding, Hiring, & Managing Reliable Contractors - roomfortuesday.comYou’re feeling organized and excited to get started… here are some tips to make your project run more smoothly.

During the project…
  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Tips for Finding, Hiring, & Managing Reliable Contractors - roomfortuesday.comHopefully 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…
  1. Complete payment. Pay the remainder of your contract balance, in a timely manner.
  2. Leave a review. Based on your (hopefully positive) experience, leave reviews on their preferred platforms.
  3. 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!
  4. 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!

Tips for Finding, Hiring, & Managing Reliable Contractors - roomfortuesday.comI 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!

How to Install Herringbone Hardwood Flooring - roomfortuesday.comLet 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.

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  1. Your thorough and methodical approach to these posts is so helpful! Finding tradespeople in our area continues to be a struggle. I think right now it’s bananas! The number of times my friends and I have been ghosted after an initial visit is alarming. Since my projects have been small, for the most part, I wonder if I am dealing with a different level of contractor. Some surely did not appreciate my communication attempts. I definitely understand why people say that you are lucky to be able to tackle most jobs yourselves! The work is always impeccable, and you don’t have the stressful management or communication with a stranger. I don’t have imminent project plans, but I will save this list for reference (and fortitude).
    I hope you enjoy a sunny, pleasantly productive Tuesday! I’m working on my second Aries birthday cake, so flour will be flying!🤣🎂

    1. It’s so tough to find good tradespeople- especially now. With lead-times and everyone working on their homes this past year, it’s kind of crazy out there. We’ve also been ghosted before and I don’t understand how that even happens?! Do these people not want the job? Why even make an appointment or initial consult? It’s confusing to me. I definitely lucky that we’re in control of our projects and save a lot of money along the way… the downside is just time, since we do everything after our regular jobs. I feel like we move at snail speed. Haha! The roof was a massive job and they did it so quickly. It felt like a major luxury to not live amongst a mess for months. It’s worth it though- plus, we enjoy it. You have lots of Aries in your corner! I hope you had an amazing day in the kitchen. That sounds absolutely perfect! xo

  2. The amount of information in this post is incredible! I’ll definitely be pinning this for later. One big question I have: how do you know you need a permit for a project? Is that something the contractor tells you? Or is it expected that the customer will have done the legwork to know what permits need to be pulled? If it’s the customer’s responsibility, should you start the permit process before or after hiring a contractor? So far we’ve never needed a contractor-like you and Emmett, Jeff and I are able to do a vast majority of work ourselves. I feel very lucky that I haven’t found myself in a position to need one. My dad is currently working with a contractor on his kitchen, and it sounds to me like he isn’t exactly thrilled with him. I definitely plan on finding out more as his project comes to a close. Thanks for compiling yet another amazing resource Sarah! I woke up to rain this morning, so it looks like a cold spring day is on the books. I hope you have an amazing Tuesday!

    1. Love hearing that, Lauren! Permits vary by city, ordinance, or township. You can usually look online or call your city to see if something requires a permit. For example, when building our shed- if it was under a certain size, it did not require a permit. We ended up building it 1 foot less than what required a permit (just so we didn’t have to deal with it and speed up the timeline). Contractors in your area should be very knowledgeable about permits and if your project requires one. We always ask them. If they downplay or “joke” about work arounds or proceeding without a permit, that’s a big red flag. The good contractors will know what is needed and will build that into the bid or formal estimate, so you don’t have to worry about it. I guess to simply answer your question- they should be on top of it, but always ask to cover your bases. I love that you’re in the same boat since you and Jeff are so handy and aren’t afraid to tackle DIY projects! I feel like it makes creating a home we love even more rewarding and enjoyable. You’ll have to pick your dad’s brain on contractor experience. I hope it’s not too terrible. That’s never fun! Despite the rain, I hope you had a good day, cozy inside! It’s super windy here, so I’m thankful our roof is finished in time for storms to roll in. Good night! xox

  3. Great tips! And you ARE lucky- you guys always amaze me. xoxo

    1. Thank you, Debbie!! Right back at you. Hope you had the best time with your fam! Loved all the photos. xox

  4. Sarah, very informative post! I am pinning this because as you know, we will be hiring contractors, builders, etc for our next home. You & Emmett make a great team. I am always impressed with your abilities to work on a project and do such a detailed and beautiful job! I could have used you when I was grouting and caulking the kid’s bathroom couple of months ago.
    Hope you have a wonderful day!

    1. Thank you, Danna! We really appreciate your kind words. That means so much! If I lived closer, I would have gladly stopped in to help you tile, grout, and caulk!! How are things going on the house front? I hope things are moving right along as you had envisioned :) xox

  5. Bookmarking this for later. Thank you so much for this blogpost! I love being informed before I start any project. This is very helpful. Thank you!

    1. I’m so happy to hear that, Sarah! I hope it’s useful when the time comes :)

  6. This post is so useful, thank you for sharing it! One thing I’ve often struggled with or felt awkward about is step 1 where you ask for proof that they’re licensed, insured, etc. Any tips on making that conversation less awkward?? It just feels insulting to ask because it implies you don’t believe or trust them right off the bat! But I agree it has to be done! That said, I have chickened out so many times…to my own detriment.

    1. I’m so happy to hear that, Jenni! I feel like most contractors expect that question, but I’m with you- it can be uncomfortable if they get weird about it. Serious clients are typically prepared and diligent, and I hope contractors appreciate that most who ask are trying not to waste their time (which is valuable). I like to treat it like any other business contract, and I always wrap up the meeting with a little recap and include it there as well. Something along the lines of- “It was great meeting you. I’m really looking forward to hopefully working together- you come highly recommended. I’ll look for your emailed estimate and credentials (proof of insurance, etc) and get back with you to get this project scheduled. Please let me know if you need anything from me in the meantime!” If they don’t send the requested paperwork, I’ll follow up until I get what I need. If they don’t send it or feel offended, that’s usually a big red flag for me. It definitely has to be done! I’ve seen too many clients and friends in bad situations because they hired a contractor who wasn’t insured or under contract. Anytime a large payment is involved, I always put a contract in place. I learned the hard way… we never received our wedding photos. Different situation, but we paid in full, expected to receive the outline service or product, and didn’t. I like knowing contractors or professionals (of any kind) also are organized because both parties are protected. It makes everything easier :) You’ve got this!

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  7. That is SUCH a great way to handle it— the recap email! And in the past when I’ve asked I’ve gotten the impression I’m the ONLY person to have ever asked for this even though literally every “how to hire a contractor” spells out the importance of this step. So, I think you’re right— RED FLAGS. Thanks again for all of the excellent tips!!

    1. Don’t worry- you’re not alone! I’d like to think most people ask, so no need to feel awkward at all :)