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How To Find a Contractor for a Home Improvement Project

Finding a contractor for a home improvement project can be challenging. Learn what to look for and how to make your decision for the best results.
Updated Jan 01, 2018
When it comes to hiring a contractor for a home improvement project, the stakes can be high. From finding the right contractor to vetting different ones to negotiating and comparing bids, the process can also be quite time-consuming.
To make sure that you find the best possible contractor for your home renovation needs, follow these ten steps:

Step 1: Consider the Nature of Your Home Improvement Project

Before you begin looking for a potential contractor, you first need to consider the overall nature of your home improvement project. The right contractor for a kitchen remodel might not be the right contractor for a home addition.
Many contractors tend to have their own niches in terms of projects that they do frequently. For the best results, it’s always a good idea to base your contractor off on the project they’ll be doing.
For example, if you are looking to build an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), finding a contractor that specifically works on ADUs or working with a turnkey, stick-built ADU provider like Cottage is important to ensure that your project will be completed on time and up to high quality.

Step 2: Ask Friends, Family, and Neighbors for Referrals

Once you have a better idea of the type of contractor you’re looking for, you can start asking friends, family, and neighbors for recommendations.
Say your neighbor recently had their bathrooms renovated, and you love the glass shower work they had done. It only makes sense to ask them about the contractor they used and if they would recommend them.
Or say your parents just finished building an accessory dwelling unit in their backyard for extra rental income, and you’re looking to do the same. If they used a professional ADU builder like Cottage, then you should definitely consider reaching out to them as well to see what they could do in your backyard.

Step 3: Conduct Online Research

Now that you’re equipped with your personal recommendations, it’s time to do your due diligence by conducting online research about each candidate.
For starters, check to make sure that all your candidates are fully licensed by the proper authorities, namely state and local licensing boards. Also, make sure that they are fully insured with liability insurance coverage and worker’s compensation.
Next, check the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for any complaints or negative reviews. Also, make sure to check other review websites like Google, Yelp, and Angi’s List to make sure that their reviews are generally positive. One bad review shouldn’t necessarily eliminate someone from your list, but it is good information to have.
From there, check to see if your candidates are members of any professional or trade associations that could indicate the quality of their work and their overall experience. For example, they could be certified by the National Kitchen & Bath Association or the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Step 4: Set Up Phone Interviews

Based on the information you’ve gathered thus far, you need to narrow down your list by eliminating any contractors that don’t have good reviews, aren’t licensed, or aren’t certified. Now that you have a more manageable list to work with, you should now start setting up phone interviews with your remaining candidates.
A phone interview is a great way to get more information about a contractor to make sure that they are able to work with you to complete your home improvement project or repairs you need.
Come to the phone interview prepared to ask a few general questions about their services and availability, like:
  • If they’re willing to take on a project of your nature and size
  • If they’re willing to provide financial references from suppliers and banks
  • If they’re willing to give you a list of previous clients for you to contact
  • How many other projects they’re currently working on
  • How long they have worked with their subcontractors

Step 5: Meet In Person

Now that you’ve gathered basic information from your phone interviews, it’s time to schedule in-person meetings with your final candidates. Generally speaking, you should try to meet with three to four finalists so that you’re not inundated with too many meetings.
Ideally, you should try to meet at your house so that you can show them the space you need to be renovated and so that they can get a better idea of the remodeling project that they’re working with and what needs to be done.
For these in-person meetings, it’s extremely important to come ready with a thorough list of questions for each candidate.
Here are some questions you should consider asking each contractor during your meeting:
  • Will you take care of the building permits?
  • How often will you check in with me regarding the status of the project? Will it be in-person or by phone, email, or text message?
  • What are your payment terms? Do you require deposits or a down payment? Do you use payment installations? When is the final payment due?
  • What happens if materials go out of stock or are otherwise delayed?
  • What happens if I want to make any changes to the renovation plan or materials?
  • Do you offer a warranty or guarantee on the project? If so, what does it cover, and how long does it last?
  • What is your estimate for the timeline? Can you get it done on time for a specific deadline?
  • How do you plan on protecting my house and my belongings from property damage while you’re working?
  • What does a typical workday look like for you and your team?
These are all important questions to ask and ensure that you have the information you need to make the best possible decision.

Step 6: Check References and Results From Previous Projects

Hopefully, your final contenders gave you a list of references that you can contact to verify the quality of their work. When contacting these references, make sure to ask short yet meaningful and upfront questions that can help you make a decision about working with the contractor.
For instance:
  • What was the nature of the project?
  • Was the project completed on time and on-budget?
  • Were you satisfied with the overall experience of working with the contractor?
  • What would you change, if anything, about your overall experience?
  • Would you recommend this contractor to family or friends? Why or why not?
  • What advice do you have for working well with this contractor?

Step 7: Get Bids

Now that you’ve checked references, it’s finally time to get bids from your final contenders. Make sure to provide them with as much information as possible so that they can come up with an accurate bid.
If one candidate offers you a price significantly lower than the others, you should consider that a red flag—not a green flag that indicates that you should work with them. After all, when it comes to contractors, you tend to get what you pay for.
To make it easier to compare the quotes of different contractors, ask them to break down the costs into different categories for materials, labor, and profit margins. That way, if one bid is entirely different from another, it will be easy for you to pinpoint why and ask more questions about it.

Step 8: Consider the Intangibles

Even though money is certainly an important part of the equation when choosing a good contractor, there are intangible factors as well that are just as important. For starters, you should genuinely like the contractor that you’re working with, as it contributes to a better overall experience.
After all, you will be working closely with this individual for an extended period of time—they will be working in and/or on your home. You should feel comfortable with the idea of them being in your house or on your property on a daily basis. You also should feel comfortable talking with them about issues that will inevitably come up along the way.

Step 9: Make Your Final Decision

Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to make a final decision about which contractor you want to use for your home improvement project.
Inform the other candidates that you decided to go with a different candidate. If you have a good reason for your decision—feel free to kindly tell them why. They are professionals and are going to understand your reasoning.

Step 10: Get It in Writing

Once you’ve made your final decision, it’s time to get everything in writing to protect both you and the contractor. This establishes a paper trail in case of a dispute.
Draw up a contract that includes all relevant information about the project, including the specific materials and products being used, a start date, and a targeted end date.
It’s also important to include the payment schedule in the contract so that it’s perfectly clear what you’re supposed to pay and when. In terms of payments, you also need to make sure that the contractor obtains a lien release from all subcontractors and suppliers so that you won’t be on the hook in the event that they don’t pay their bills.
Finally, make sure that the contract includes proof of liability insurance and worker’s compensation payments. Once all of that is complete, you should feel confident signing the agreement and starting the work on your project.

Find the Best Contractor for Your ADU Project With Cottage

A home improvement project is one thing; building an ADU is another thing entirely. As a result, you want to make sure that you’re working with only the best and most experienced contractors. Thanks to Cottage, this is easy.
When you work with Cottage to build your custom ADU, not only do you gain access to Cottage’s team of in-house designers and architects to draw up your plans, you also get paired with a vetted, licensed general contractor who specializes in ADUs to bring those plans to life.
Cottage has an established network of trusted contracting partners that have been fully vetted by industry experts based on past projects, online reviews, and reference checks.
All of Cottage’s contracting partners hold an active contractor’s license in good standing and a contractor’s bond. They are also fully insured with commercial general liability insurance, worker’s compensation, and employer’s liability insurance of $1 million each.
Based on this information, there’s really no reason to delay building your ADU. So reach out to Cottage today for a free consultation and estimate.

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