Five Essential Tips for Working With a Contractor

Apr 14, 2017

A contractor with a plaid shirt installing tile on someone's floor

Ready to invest in a home remodeling project and in need of assurance that the contractor you hire will give you the results you want at a reasonable price? Gain peace of mind, and avoid being blindsided by expensive blunders, by following these pointers for working with a contractor you can trust to get the job done:

Begin with a referral: One of the best ways to ensure that a contractor you’re considering hiring does high-quality work and operates with integrity is to ask for a recommendation from among your network of friends, colleagues, real estate professionals, family members, etc. Make sure to inquire about the type of project the contractor did and whether there were any cost overruns or unexpected hassles or delays. One way to uncover potential problems is to ask your referral source directly, “What problems did you encounter when working with the contractor?” By using this assumptive technique, you may get useful information they may otherwise withhold.

Get a few quotes: Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potential contractors, it’s generally advisable to get at least three bids for your project. When comparing proposals, make sure you know what materials the contractors will be using and ask that they specify whether they will acquire any necessary permits. While it can be tempting to go with the lowest estimate, this is not necessarily the best choice as the contractor could be inexperienced or cutting corners that will eventually cost you more money. Regardless of which bid you choose, make sure you understand the rationale behind the costs and that payment terms and timeframes are clearly defined.

Verify that the contractor is licensed and insured: In California, anyone who contracts to perform  construction work that is valued at $500 or more in materials and labor is required to be licensed by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB). Furthermore, contractors in the state must have a license specific to the type of work they do. Ask to see the contractor’s business license, and confirm that the license covers the category of work they will be doing for you. You can check licenses at the CSLB website at Also check the status of the contractor’s insurance policy on this site. If the contractor has employees, make certain that there is a current workers’ compensation policy in effect (in addition to liability coverage) so that you aren’t legally responsible should an injury occur.

Be aware of major complaints or any legal action: Although a contractor’s license demonstrates that a person has met certain state requirements in terms of experience and competency, it is by no means an indication of superior work or a sterling reputation. To get a clearer picture of whether the contractor you’re considering hiring is reliable, ethical and skilled in the right areas, read online reviews and check the Better Business Bureau site at And if you didn’t get a referral to the contractor from someone you know personally, ask for and check references from others who have used their services.

Maintain ongoing communication: Steer clear of potentially costly misunderstandings and help keep your project a top priority for the contractor by regularly checking in on work progress. While being constantly underfoot as the contractor and crew work can be very distracting and even slow down their efforts, it is a good idea to have weekly in-person meetings with the person in charge. This keeps the contractor accountable and alerts you to any minor problems before they become a major setback.

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