10 Expert Tips for Finding the Perfect Contractor for Your Latest Project

by | BiggerPockets.com

One of the most popular questions on the Forums is, “How do I find a good contractor?”

My husband and I are very handy. He grew up with an electrician dad and helped on sites a lot. He picked up things here and there and knows how to do a lot of the work involved in renovations. I grew up without a lot of money — and a dad who grew up with even less. He never hired anything out. He just always seemed to know how to do it.

When we flip houses, we do much of the work ourselves because we know how to do it, and finding someone you can trust is extremely difficult. Twice we needed to hire someone, and both times we hired the wrong person before finding the right one. Here are some tips to help you weed through the bad to find the good.

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10 Expert Tips for Finding the Perfect Contractor for Your Latest Project

Ask Around

Do you know someone who recently remodeled their home? Ask how they liked their contractor. Would they recommend him to you, would they use him again? What did they like about him? How did they decided on this contractor over the others they interviewed? What was the scope of the work? How did they find him? Just as important, ask if there was anything he did they didn’t like. Would they have done anything differently?


Walk Around

We hired a contractor off Craigslist (please don’t throw tomatoes at me — I learned my lesson), and after we decided to stop using him, we had to find someone else to take over the project. We were walking around the neighborhood and saw a house being added on to, which was exactly what we needed done. We talked to the builder and the homeowner. This was her second project with this company, and she was falling over herself to tell us how wonderful they were. We toured the property and saw the construction techniques firsthand. High quality all the way around.

Ask the Local Building Supply Company

Chance are good they have some sort of policy against recommending a specific contractor, but there are ways around that. Ask them who they would use if they were doing a project, or who they would hire to do work on their mother’s home. Who do they notice is prepared for the jobs, and who comes back over and over for “one last thing” they forgot? You might even get lucky and they have a list of contractors they would recommend.

Ask the Building Inspectors

The inspectors in your city deal with a lot of people. One-time project homeowners don’t stick out in their minds, but they remember the builders and remodelers they see over and over. They also remember the guys who try to slide things past them and the guys who do things right the first time. Like the local building supply company, they may not be able to recommend someone to you, but ask them the same questions and see what they say.

Related: 3 Ways to Ensure Top-of-the-Line Contractors Will Want to Work for You

Check References

Almost everyone says to check references, but some people think it is a waste of time. I got a list of references from a potential contractor, and when I called one in particular, he said, “I don’t have any idea why he would give you my name. I am currently suing him for shoddy work.” Guess who I didn’t hire?

Make sure you ask questions regarding the scope of the work performed. If you guy only has references for bathroom remodels, perhaps he isn’t the most qualified to add a second story.

…But Don’t Put Too Much Stock In Them

Just as bad tenants will give friends’ names to pose as past landlords, a bad contractor can do the same thing. When every reference you call gives a glowing review, that is only the first step. Ask the contractor for information about recent jobs. See if you can go to the current job site. Talk to the homeowner at the current site and see how the contractor works.

Walk Them Out to Their Vehicle

Just like tenant screening advises walking them to their car to see how they keep it, the same can be applied to contractors. If their vehicle is a disaster, chances are they won’t be able to locate that receipt for you, find those nails, etc. We interviewed a contractor who seemed amazing. When we walked him out to his truck, it was the cleanest automobile I had ever seen. We asked him what year it was because it had the body style of an older model, but looked absolutely brand new. When he told us it was more than 20 years old, we were floored. We ultimately ended up not using him because he told us the scope of the work was out of his range. Honesty on top of cleanliness??? Holy cow!


A Great Contractor Can’t Start Tomorrow

If your guy is good, he’s busy right now. And next week, too. That’s OK — wait for him. The guy who can start tomorrow — and seems desperate to do so — is probably so eager because he isn’t getting word-of-mouth recommendations.

…And Won’t Need a Downpayment

I have a friend who decided to finish his basement. He found a contractor who needed $10,000 up front for materials. My friend smelled a rat and somehow finagled the delivery of materials to his house, but the contractor walked away with a lot of his money, and he was left with just a pile of supplies he didn’t know what to do with.

Related: How to Choose the Best Possible Contractor For Your Next Renovation

Google Their Name

You might be surprised at what pops up when you Google the name of a contractor you are thinking about using. Along with the good can come some bad, so click on to that second page if his name warrants. Check out the Better Business Bureau, but understand how that works. The BBB rating of A+ could just mean there haven’t been any complaints lodged against the company. It doesn’t mean they do good work.

Inevitably, you will find a contractor who doesn’t do work up to your standards. The best thing for you to do is let them go. The longer they work on your property at a sub-par level, the more work you will have to pay someone else to fix.

Never pay for work before your payment schedule requires. You may think you are being nice, but they are taking advantage of you and that “being nice” is a one-way street. Hold back at least 10% of the final payment until you are satisfied that all the work is complete. When that last check is in their hands, you won’t ever see them again.

Any tips you’d add?

Let me know with a comment!

About Author

Mindy Jensen

Mindy Jensen has been buying and selling homes for almost 20 years. She buys houses, moves in, makes them beautiful, sells them, and starts the process all over again. She is a licensed real estate agent in Colorado, author of How to Sell Your Home, and the community manager for BiggerPockets.com, where she helps new and experienced investors learn the proper ways to invest in real estate to grow their wealth. Mindy is an alumnus of the School of Hard Knocks and will happily share her experiences with anyone who asks. When you can get her to stop talking about real estate, you can find her on her bike or adventuring in the beautiful mountains of Colorado.


  1. Jeffrey Hare

    Mindy, those are great tips. Allow me to add some additional ones for California residents. First, foremost and always check the contractor’s license status: http://www.cslb.ca.gov You can search on a person’s name, their company, or their Contractor License Number. If they have helpers, make certain they have Workers’ Compensation insurance (and not an exemption). If you are flipping, make sure to review the Owner-Builder information on the CSLB web site; the penalties for noncompliance can be extremely stiff! If the contractor is operating as a Corporation or under a fictitious name, go online and confirm the status of the corporation and the fictitious name filing. Also, know that Business & Professions Code 7159 imposes strict limits on what a contractor can request in terms of advance payments, and spells out what information they are required to provide in their contract. An unlicensed contractor can create serious liability issues for the property owner, and there is often very little recourse. Be cautious, not sorry.

  2. Allen Chambers

    I have a contractor that I use that is late, sometimes doesn’t show up , but does great work, Fixes small things that we’re not in his bid and doesn’t charge me and voices his opinion about ways to save in different areas. I pay him half the money mid way through the project and the rest when it’s done. He also has made repairs post inspection for material cost. I have made a much larger profit with a little patience concerning his attendance.

  3. Adam P

    I agree with Allen, you need patience with contractors. In most markets, if you pay market rates for great contractors, that will eat most of your profits. The trick is to find honest contractors who do great work, but charge reasonable prices. One of my contractors is a bit of a diva and perfectionist, threatening to quit if he feels that some work is beneath him. However he does flawless work at a great price, so I arrange for part of every project to go his way.

    Another contractor will never finish his work when he estimates he will. He also never charges me for the multitude of smaller fixes he completes while on site, and his work quality is fantastic at a reasonable price. He is just a terrible time estimator. So I now build that into my project timelines.

    The only “perfect” contractors I have ever used, charge accordingly. They are the contractors who mostly do work for middle class homeowners, and they are way too expensive to use for any large project. Find good honest contractors, and then deal with any non work related flaws they may have.

  4. I like your tip on checking references when looking for a contractor. I would imagine that finding somewhere with good references would be a good way to ensure that they will do a good job on your project. My wife and I are looking for someone to finish our basement so we’ll have to remember to check their references first.

  5. I like that tip about how a great contractor is usually busy and is most likely can’t start you project the next day. Patience is a virtue and usually the greatest things in life are worth waiting for. Though it’s also good to wait that way you can group together you thoughts and really plan out what you want.

  6. I agree that you should always check their references before you hire them. I have never hired a contractor before, but I would want to see how they did in the past. I think this advice can apply to almost any service you are wanting to hire.

  7. I had never considered walking around to look at my neighbor’s projects to see if they liked their contractor. I can see why this would allow to see what kind of work they do and get references at the same time. My mom is wanting to remodel her kitchen next summer. I’ll have to talk to her about asking her friends and family about who they have used.

  8. I really like your tip about asking building inspectors when it comes to looking for a general contractor. My husband and I are thinking about doing some work in our home in the next few months so we will have to keep these tips in mind while we are searching for someone to work for. Hopefully, we can get the job done quickly, thanks for sharing!

  9. I like what you said about how if your contractor is good, he will be busy! I had never really thought of that, but it definitely is true! Great advice for someone who might be looking for a contractor. Finding someone who is qualified is most important. Thanks again for the advice!

  10. Checking references would be a wise thing to do when it comes to finding a construction contractor. I like what was said about the importance of asking questions regarding the scope of the work performed. Something else to think about would be to find a specialist who has worked with projects similar to yours for an increase of success.

  11. I really love your comment about asking around for referrals when looking to hire a contractor. I feel like it would be a super good way to find someone reliable who is also close by where you are. I would think that spending some time reading online on sites like the BBB could also be helpful.

  12. I think the article makes a good point about how it can be important to check references when looking to hire a contractor. My wife and I have been dying to have a remodel done in our kitchen this year. I think it would be smart to take the article’s advice and interview past clients about their renovator’s work.

  13. I can see how talking to people who recently finished building or remodeling a home would be a good way to get referrals to good contractors. It would probably also be a good idea to ask potential contractors for references from people they have done work for in the past. Checking their professional licenses wouldn’t hurt either.

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