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How To Find and Hire Reliable Contractors

by Ryan Guina

There are a lot of do-it-yourself type people out there who can fix anything but if you are not one of them, chances are good at some point you will need to hire a contractor to do the jobs you can’t handle or to do jobs that require expertise of a licensed professional. But where can you find a good local contractor?

If you look through your local phone book or visit the online websites of local businesses, you’ll likely dozens of contractors to choose from for a variety of jobs like electrical work, plumbing, or general contracting. The trick to getting the job done right and not paying more than you should is selecting the right contractor from the very start.

Finding and hiring the right contractor is not an easy task. You can’t simply make one phone call and hire the first person on your list. Nowadays you need to do some legwork to help ensure you are making the right choice. Otherwise you are putting yourself at risk for dealing with shady contractors who not only don’t do the work correctly they may also take your money and run. In some cases, you have little recourse against scams without having to go through a lot of red tape.

Here are some tips for finding and hiring contractors:

Start Early

If you are in a hurry to get everything done, you may not be as thorough with your selection process as if you had more time. As soon as you start putting money away for your project, you should start the process of contacting people to do the work. Even if you can’t start early, you may still be able to find a 24 hour plumber at a reasonable rate. But you should still shop around.

Investigate Licensing and Insurance

Before going through any other steps, find out which contractors are properly licensed to do the work. You can you the Contractor’s License Reference Site where you can find out the requirements by state and check to see which contractors are legitimate before moving forward. You also want to verify the contractor has insurance!

Get Referrals

Ask family, friends, and co-workers that you trust for contractor referrals. This can help you weed out the bad and focus on the reliable. It can be a smoother process if you know what you are getting going into it than if you were hiring a complete stranger.

Another way to get reviews and referrals. Use Angie’s List, which is a contractor review and referral program. You have to sign up to join, but you get access to reviews and referrals for local area contractors. Find reliable contractors and doctors when you join Angie’s List today – Use promo code LOCAL to save 15%..

Get Estimates

You have the advantage of sizing up talent by requesting estimates for the job to be completed. An estimate should be free and you should definitely request more than one estimate for the same job. Once you have the estimates in hand, make sure the sheet lists the products, materials, and costs of labor. You’ll also want to be sure that the timeline for completion from start to finish should be listed. Take the estimates and compare each but do not rely solely on the cost of the estimate for deciding on a contractor. Lower or higher prices do not mean the work is any better or the contractor is legitimate. When you narrow down the estimates, you can proceed with screening the individual contractors.

Request References

When you have narrowed down your choices, you need to ask the contractor for a list of references for past jobs that are similar to yours. Place calls to the customers familiar with the contractor’s work and ask them about the process. Don’t be shy in making contact with these people but do listen to what they have to say. Any sign of shoddy work, you should consider finding another contractor. You should also look up the contractor on the Better Business Bureau website and check for complaints filed.

Review the Contract

Don’t rely on a handshake and a promise to get the job done. Get everything in writing and make sure the contract includes the timeline, costs, payment schedule and any other agreed upon detail. Do not sign any contract that is not completely filled out. Make sure the contractor understands your budgetary concerns and what exactly you want to accomplish.

Payment Schedule

When you agree to terms of the contract make sure it clearly states how you will pay for the work. Typically, a customer would put a percentage down to start the project and pay in increments as milestones of project completion are reached. Final payment should never be made unless the job is completely done to your own satisfaction. Reputable contractors will work to make the job complete before demanding final payment. Be sure to pay for the work using checks and ask for receipts for each payment being made.

If you make a conscientious effort to hire the right person for the job, you lower the risk of getting taken for a ride and losing money. Once you find a good contractor, keep their number for future use and share their contact information with your friends and family. It will make projects down the road much easier to initiate.


Published or updated November 8, 2010.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 basicmoneytips

Nice article. Personally I have found word of mouth referrals to be very helpful when finding contractors to do work. If you work around a lot of people (as in an office) sometimes that can be a great way to find someone to do what you need – just ask around the office.

Also, getting a couple of bids is important too. You will be surprised how much bids can vary. One thing that helps is if you will buy the materials. Most build in price + contingency for this. However, if you get the materials you take them out of the equation.

For smaller jobs I recommend trying it yourself. You save the most that way and feel the personal satisfaction. Thing like hanging ceiling fans or tiling a backsplash are actually easy – so go for it.

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2 Ryan

BMT, I try to do smaller jobs as well – we just painted almost all of our home’s interior in preparation for placing it on the market. We stripper wallpaper in one bathroom, sanded the walls, put on primer then two coats, then painted the master and guest bed rooms and the common areas. We actually had to hire some painters to do one wall and patch the ceiling because it was two stories and we don’t have the equipment. So these tips came in handy for that job!

I can do other things – like ceiling fans, caulking, small electrical work, etc., but I need to hire the pros when it comes to the major jobs, or if I don’t have the tools or equipment.

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3 Kimberly @ Card Hub

It’s also important to keep in mind that the cheapest contractor won’t always end up saving you money. I learned that the hard way when I hired a cheap contractor to re-do my bathroom and he ended up doing real damage to the plumbing. Not only did I have to hire a new, more expensive and qualified contractor to start from scratch, but I had to get the plumbing fixed in both upstairs bathrooms!

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