Are you thinking of renovating a bathroom, or knocking out walls to make your kitchen larger?  If you aren’t experienced yourself, most likely you will be hiring a general contractor.  Do you know how to weed out the bad ones from the good ones?  There are several television do it yourself programs out there that showcase bad contractors and good contractors having to “clean up their mess”. Before you are dreaming of what your remodeled bathroom will look like, you will need some tips. In an effort to ensure you hire a reputable general contractor, follow these 7 tips to help you with the process.

1.) Determine if you need a handy person or a contractor: Depending on your home project you first need to differentiate between a handy person and a contractor. If you want home repairs that don’t require permitting and aren’t more than $500.00 US dollars, you can use a handy person.  While if you need major plumbing, electrical, mechanical or plumbing needs that will require permits to be pulled, then you are seeking a general contractor.  Additionally, most handy personnel are not licensed but may still have the skill sets to perform the duty.

2.) Ask for referrals when searching for a reputable contractor: If you live in an area that has plenty of resources, ask around at your local home improvement store or lumber yard for contractors they have seen buying quality products. Be mindful of contractors that few people have heard of, or haven’t seen where they purchase their building materials. Poor quality building materials can be the beginning of an awful renovation.

3.) Ask a home inspector: When a home inspector conducts an inspection on a home seller’s home with major problems, they usually will try and refer general contractors that may help the home owner get the problem solved.  Consider calling home inspectors in your area and asking for general contractor referrals.  This way you will weed out going through a phone book and looking through hundreds of contractors.

4.) Ask questions over the phone first: Before having a contractor come out to your home, ask them interview questions by phone. Questions should include:  *What other projects have they done that are similar in size and complexity as your project? *What are their payment requirements? (Avoid contractors who only accept cash, or require you to write a check directly to them instead of the business) *Ask if their license is current and when it expires *Where is their office located.  (Be careful of contractors who only have a P.O. box and don’t have a physical company location) *Make sure they carry necessary insurances – Surety bond, Workman’s compensation if they have employees and General liability insurance.

5.) Meet the general contractor in person: Once you feel comfortable over the phone, it is time to meet the general contractor at your home.  Don’t ignore your gut feeling when talking with a general contractor.  When you ask them questions, the contractor should be able to answer concisely and not seem hesitant.  Ask them in person again for projects that you can go see, or ask for contact information of previous clients and projects.

6.) Get at least 3-4 bids on your project: Each general contractor should ask for floor plans of your home, and get a list of your wants and needs from you.  Have the contractor explain how they will begin, execute and finish the project from beginning to end.  Ask each contractor to divide their bids into categories for easy determination of what you are really paying for. Categories should include: labor, materials, profit and miscellaneous expenses.

7.) Don’t choose the contractor with the cheapest price: Although tempting, don’t go with the lowest price contractor.  They could be the lowest because of low quality materials, or they are desperate and haven’t worked recently.  Choose one that you feel comfortable with their personality, price, background, and methods. Put everything in writing and make a schedule of milestones in which to pay the contractor. Assure that your contractor gets a lien release which will protect you if they don’t pay their subcontractors and bills. Remember a quality contractor will not give you a “low ball” offer.

Home renovation can be fun and exciting.  When hiring a general contractor don’t be afraid of doing your research and hiring a reputable one.  Use these 7 tips when considering hiring and being mindful of the contractor and their reputation.  You can tell a lot by the history a general contractor carries. Research and feel confident that you will find the best contractor to suit your needs.

Freshome reader’s what advice do you have from experience in hiring general contractors? Tell us your lessons learned.