Mar 222012

The good news is that the majority of contractors are honest and do quality work. The bad news is that you are more likely to hear about the bad contractors and that can skew your opinions about contractors in general. In order to find the best contractor for you, you will need to do some work. You will need to visit stranger’s homes and ask tough questions. You will need to do some research ahead of time, as well as during the process of hiring to be sure that you understand everything you are being told.

As you vet a contractor, there will be certain things that send up an immediate red flag. This is when you want to Walk Away. Otherwise, ask more questions and make sure that you are satisfied with the answers. Remember that 1. it’s your money, and 2. an honest, quality contractor doesn’t have anything to hide. He (or she) will probably welcome your questions and encourage you to get more information. Follow the tips below and ask the questions suggested and you will be well on your way to hiring the best contractor for you.

Get recommendations. If you trust your friends and family’s opinions and like the work that a contractor has done for them, find out who they worked with. You can also ask coworkers, although your tastes are not necessarily the same. Ask questions to make sure that they have the same criteria that you do for hiring someone. Did they agree with all the contractor’s suggestions for materials? Ask if you can visit their home and see the work for yourself. Also ask the same questions you would ask the references the contractor gives you.

On Time and On Budget: A Home Renovation Survival Guide
How soon can they start? If the answer is tomorrow, that is a red flag. Good contractors are busy and won’t be able to start right away. Do more due diligence, but be prepared to Walk Away. Times are tough and not as many people are doing renovations, so this isn’t an immediate no go, but it’s still troubling.

Check references. Thoroughly. Go to the other homes and look at what the contractor did. Ask the homeowner how they did. Did they show up on time every day? Were they professional? Did they come in at budget or over? Did they take longer than they said? If so, how much longer? Did they explain to you what they were doing? How did they react to your requests for changes? How did they react to you checking on their work in progress?

Check sites like Angie’s List. Angie’s List in particular has a membership fee, but you will get access to detailed information, including what other homeowners grade the contractor. However, if the contractor isn’t on Angie’s List at all, that’s not a red flag. It costs the contractor quite a bit to be listed and in a tough economy, they may not have the money. But, if they have poor scores Walk Away.

Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints. Again, contractors need to pay to be listed, so no news isn’t bad. Bad news though – Walk Away.

Know the cost of materials in your area. Then you will have a good benchmark for a contractor’s bid. For instance, if you know that building a walk in shower will cost $5,000 in materials, a contractor who quotes $3,000 is obviously cutting corners somewhere and you want to Walk Away.

Get multiple bids. Understand what they are offering so you make sure to compare apples to apples.  Compare how much they will charge for changes, or extras as the job progresses.

Check licenses and insurance. All contractors should have General Liability and Workers Compensation insurance. Ask for the number to their insurance provider or agent. You can request something in writing to prove that the contractor has the insurance they say they do. This is a common request to insurance agents and they should not have any problems providing you with this information.

Make sure you have a written contract. Understand what that contract covers and what it doesn’t cover. Is the contractor offering a warranty? If so, how long is the warranty for? What does it cover? If they don’t offer one, why not?

Find out if they will be doing the work themselves, or if they will use sub contractors. If they will use sub contractors, make sure to vet them too. You want to trust everyone that you let into your home.

If the contractor won’t let you speak to the subcontractors – Walk Away. If you hire the contractor and it turns out they aren’t the one who shows up to do the job – check the work that the sub contractor is doing. At any time, you have the right to stop the work. Don’t let a bad contractor ruin your home. Stop the work and tell them to Walk Away.

Contact your local government to find out if you need permits. If you do need them, make sure that the contractor states they will get them. If they say you don’t need them and you do – Walk Away.

If you have checked out your contractor, and you are confident that you are hiring the right person, then certainly hire them. But, make sure you keep track of what they are doing and if they are on schedule. Remember, you are giving a lot of money to this contractor. If at any time you are unhappy with the work they are doing, ask questions. If you don’t like the answers, or if you just don’t think they are up to par – you have the right to stop the work.

A bathroom renovation and installing a walk in shower is a large project for which you will most likely need professional assistance. Take time to research and find the best contractor for you. Ask lots of questions and be sure that you understand everything that a contractor is telling you. For additional information, please see the references below.


  1. How to Hire a Contractor from This Old House
  2. How to Hire a Contractor from Consumer Reports
  3. How to Hire a Kitchen Contractor from; tips that apply to all contractors, not just kitchen contractors
shower and tub
Creative Commons License photo credit: Joelk75

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