8 Essential Tips to Help You Avoid Hiring a Bad Contractor

Make sure your contractor shows up and does the job well for an appropriate amount of money by following these tips.
Last updated June 7, 2022 | By Olivia Christensen | Edited By Ellen Cannon
contractor and engineer inspecting material in construction building

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We’ve all heard the contractor horror stories. The ones where the contractor's estimate ends up tripling over the course of the job. Or the ones where at the end of the job, the project is in worse shape than when the contractor started.

If you are looking to hire a contractor, these scary stories might make you think twice about that renovation. There are so many factors to consider, and the very fact that you’re wanting to hire out the project indicates it’s not necessarily in your wheelhouse to begin with. There's a lot of financial stress that comes with renovations. Make sure you're also considering ways to grow your wealth to help offset the added expenses of remodeling. 

Figuring out how to hire a reliable, skilled contractor may feel overwhelming. Here are eight ways to make sure you don’t hire the wrong person for the job.

Get recommendations

InsideCreativeHouse/Adobe beautiful elderly businesswoman speaking on smart phone while working

One of the best ways to find a trustworthy, skilled, punctual contractor is to get a referral from someone you trust has already worked with them. Ask around or make a post on your community page.

This exercise will help you find a contractor with a stellar track record and help you clarify the qualities that matter the most to you. Whether your primary concern is cost or time or craftsmanship, you can ask your friends or your community for a contractor who shares your priorities.

Look at previous projects the contractor has done

bearinmind/Adobe Asian man looking at the computer at home

Just about every contractor you meet will give you a sales pitch that includes their previous achievements, but that doesn’t make them the most reliable reviewers.

Check out any pictures they have on their website and ask how much that cost. Also, ask the person who recommended the contractor if you could take a peek at the work the contractor did for them.

Getting a sense of both the contractor’s style and skill level is essential when deciding whether or not they are the best fit for your job.

Interview the contractor

amnaj/Adobe Engineer and contractor shaking hands

Once you’ve gotten a few recommendations from family or friends, make an appointment for the contractor to visit your home and estimate the cost.

This is a great opportunity for you to evaluate whether they’re a good fit for your project beyond pricing. When they come out to give you an estimate, make sure you ask them pertinent questions like how many projects they are already working on, how big their team is, and what situations might arise that would cause them to miss work days.

This will help you decide whether their strengths align with your priorities and for you to effectively communicate to the contractor what those priorities are.

Check licenses

Pormezz/Adobe bank broker showing to client where to sign signature

Remodeling your kitchen may not seem like something that should require a bunch of paperwork, but it nearly always does. Whether you’re planning on getting a loan for your home improvement project, using a home warranty or insurance money, or trying to get permits from the city, there are always forms to fill and fine print to read.

And, as long as you are doing your due diligence, make sure you check your contractor’s licenses before you hire them.

You can usually do this through the Better Business Bureau and by asking the contractor for their proof of license directly. Having a licensed contractor is important to ensure they know what they are doing on a fundamental level, as well as it typically being a non-negotiable when it comes to getting those permits from the city.

Check insurance

sirichai/Adobe worker suffered a finger injury

It’s also important to make sure your contractor is properly insured. You can find this information through the Better Business Bureau and by asking the contractor for proof of insurance. Most projects that require contractors carry a risk to either your property and anyone in the vicinity of the project, including the contractors themselves.

If you don’t want to find yourself paying the bill for possible damages, make sure your contractor has insurance that will cover any that are incurred throughout the project.

Be willing to pay for a good one

igor_kell/Adobe hands of a man opening a wallet full of dollar bills

Whether you're putting in a bathroom or building a back deck, when it comes to hiring a contractor, you generally go into it understanding that you’re about to drop some serious cash. And yet, if you’re thrifty, there’s always the temptation to spend less.

While there’s nothing wrong with comparing prices and finding a great deal, choosing the bottom-dollar bid on a project is only a good idea if you’re certain the contractor is the best person for the job in every other way that matters too. Sometimes, this means you are going to have to be willing to pay more for a contractor you can trust.

Pro tip: One way to save money on expenses you can put on a credit card is to use one of the best credit cards for home renovations. These cards have an intro period with a 0% APR, which gives you time to pay for your project before it starts accruing interest charges.

Read the bid agreement carefully

Jon Schulte/Adobe Independent Contractors Agreement

When a contractor puts your bid in writing, it should include six things:

  1. The contractor’s contact information
  2. Their insurance information
  3. A timeline for the project
  4. A payment plan
  5. Any lien waivers the contractor will put on your house to ensure payment
  6. And — as long as it meets your criteria — your signature

You need to have everything in writing, especially the timeline. Projects take as long as they take, and once your project is in progress you might feel powerless to keep things on schedule. In many ways, you might be.

But having an agreed-upon timeline in writing will keep your contractor accountable to you and to their own integrity.

Read up on the project

master1305/Adobe engineer shows future house plan to a young couple

Most jobs that require contractors are a bit of an investment. This is why it’s crucial that you learn as much as you can about it before you hire a contractor.

That said, contractors are as likely to be impressed by the YouTube tutorials you watched as your doctor would be by your WebMD degree. But you don’t have to be an expert to understand the details of your project, how you would like it to turn out, and therefore, have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for in a contractor.

Bottom line

May_Chanikran/Adobe engineer team with hard hat and blueprint talking together

There are some bad contractors out there and there are good contractors, and there may be one who is a perfect fit for you. As with any investment, take your time to do your research and choose carefully. Hiring a contractor to do most jobs in or around your home will likely cost you a few thousand dollars or more. Consider ways to make extra money to help cover any new projects you need done. 

Finding a good contractor might be a lot of work on the front end, but if you are able to eventually put your feet up and relax while your contractor does the rest of the work, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

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Author Details

Olivia Christensen Olivia Christensen is a freelance writer and columnist whose work has been featured in HuffPost, Business Insider, and more. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband and three kids, and when she isn't writing, she's probably hiking.