Signing Mr. Right: 7 Trade Tips for Hiring and Managing the RIGHT Contractor, The FIRST Time

Updated: Aug 29

Swipe right for a great contractor.

Swipe left to avoid six months of S-T-R-E-S-S, financial drain and a migraine.

Imagine...a dedicated website featuring professional, well-priced and competent contractors excited to execute your vision on time, in budget and without leaving oil stains on your driveway! Ahhh, if only this type of pairing was as easy as some of those popular dating sites.

A girl can dream right?!

Blog post – 7 Trade Tips for Hiring and Managing the Right Contractor, The First Time

Unfortunately, unless you really know the industry insider questions to ask before hiring a general contractor, the reality of signing the most-qualified contractor for your type of job isn't always that easy.

Often times homeowners believe they've done their due diligence by interviewing a few candidates and checking the their references, and then they proceed to him or her, only later a few months down the road they begin to have misgivings for a variety of reasons.

Checking references is a good start, but only a small step in the contractor selection process. There are a number of other key tasks you want to invest time into to ensure you're going to sign with a skilled licensed professional with business integrity.

Because let's face it, construction, while exciting, can easily devolve into a costly and stressful experience if you have partnered with a company that doesn't share your values, vision or expectations.

So in this two-part Blog series, we will highlight "7 Trade Tips for Hiring and Managing The RIGHT Contractor, The FIRST Time" to help you avoid job delays, costly mistakes, poor workmanship and unnecessary stress.

Tip #1 - Really Check Him Out

You've asked for past client references and reviewed some of your potential contractor's past remodels or additions. You like what you see and his past client's seem pleased. That's a great first step. But let let's take it a bit further because really who's going to pass out a bad reference list, right?

When assisting our Pasadena-area clients during the contractor selection process I tell them I want to know if the contractor they are considering "plays nice with others", i.e. how well did he or she work with past project architects, interior designers, subs and the local Building Department? Homeowners have every right to ask a potential contractor for the names of other team members and peers they have collaborated with on a project so they can garner a more accurate picture of his professional business practices. So don't be shy, just ask and see how forthcoming they are to give you that information.

Also it goes without saying, you must run his license number through your local Contractors State License Board website.  Here you'll learn if your prospective contractor is licensed, carries commercial general liability insurance (which is highly recommended) and is in good standing. It is not enough for a contractor to just show you his business card, flyer or website with his license number listed. It may be invalid, so run the number.

Additionally, if a contractor has employees, he's required to carry Worker's Compensation Insurance in many states. If he doesn't and one of his employees gets injured on your job site, you could be financially liable to pay for the employee's medical and rehabilitation bills (note: your homeowner's insurance may or may not cover these costs).

In some states, like California, contractors are also required to carry a Contractor's License Bond of $15,000 which frankly, in light of today's high construction and material costs, is not a lot to cover substandard work should an issue arise. So be informed and refer to your local State Contractors License Board for more details or questions.

Now it goes without saying, none of these issues are the glamorous or fun part of the building process, but they are essential and should be discussed, as well as outlined for you in writing before you sign anything.

Tip #2 - Who's His Posse?

Really. You need to know.

Like many professions the lead business owner, in this case your general contractor, is only as good as his team. So it's very important you learn about who the sub-contractors are that he will be bringing to your home or office, how long they've worked together and, most importantly, if they're licensed tradesmen.

While it may be tempting to hire unlicensed labor as they typically have a lower day rate, it's not worth the risk as a homeowner and it's not legal, despite it being a frequent practice.

Tip #3 - Set a Date

Yes, you need to spend time with your prospective contractor before signing on the proverbial dotted line. Visiting one of his or hers completed job sites that are similar in type to your project is a great way to view learn more about his attention to detail, level of craftsmanship and work ethic.

A good contractor will have positive relationships with former clients and should be able to arrange a brief visit. If you like his work, receive positive feedback from his industry peers and past clients, have checked his license and insurance standing, then you should feel confident taking the next step and asking for a proposal for your project.

Tip #4 - Play The Field

Yes, it's a more ways than one. We always recommend clients meet with several potential contractors individually and provide them all with the same detailed information to bid on. If the contractors are all given the same Scope Of Work to bid on then you you can feel confident you are comparing apples-to-apples as the saying goes.

In addition to assessing their estimates, take note of their professionalism, punctuality to meetings and responsiveness when emailing or calling with questions during the bidding process. This is a sure indicator of how you will be treated during the months-long construction process.

Tip #5 - Shades of Grey...But NOT in Contracts