Nervous about hiring a contractor

7 Replies

I need to talk to and hire a contractor as I'm preparing to convert my condo in Chicago into a rental.  Most of the things on my list are small wear and tear items that have come up from living in the unit for 11years.  The biggest job is putting in a kitchen floor.  But, I've never talked to a contractor before.  I know next to nothing about construction and repair work.  I don't know if there is a set price or hourly rate.  I don't know what happens if they go over the estimate or time period.  I feel like there are a million questions that I don't even know to ask.  Can anyone direct me to a resource where I can get a feeling of how the meeting will go with the contractor, questions I should ask, things I should know, and things to watch out for.  I'd really appreciate any help you guys could offer.  Thanks!


do not be intimidated by this, best thing for you to do, if the floor is the major project, is to decide what material you would like to install ( tile, hardwood, laminate flooring, sheet vinyl ) that will determine how much work is involved. i would ask around at lumber yard, local hardware store or neighbors and friends who they would recommend. you call a couple of contractors ( some may not be interested do to the size of the job) and ask them to come over to give you a price for the work. If you sign a contract with one, make sure you have a timeline on it and a penalty if they were to go over that time  per day ( if you are in a need to have it done by a certain time).

Get references and go look at some of your prospective contractor's work. Good luck.

Hi Douglas,

If you need a contractor I work with a few of them and can provide you references. Many of my clients have used my guys to renovate their properties. I agree that you should decide on what material you want the floors and then ask them for a quote on installation. The up charge is usually in the material. 

@Douglas T. Buy J Scotts book on rehab. You will find it maybe more than you need, but there is a section on how to hire contractors, either you flip or hold/rent, the process is the same. Save yourself the mistake of hiring the wrong one and spend the time on how to do it correctly. The book will tell you how to hire and how to pay.

Hi @Douglas T.   - good question.  I'd suggest getting several quotes.  The more contractors you talk to, the more comfortable you'll be.

Also, get everything in writing - even if it's a small job write down the scope (an itemized list of each item that needs to be done) which will be put into the contract.  I'm not a lawyer but even for a small job you'll need to have the parties identified, the scope of work, the draw schedule (when and how much you will pay the contractor) and any other conditions that are appropriate.   You should write it - a lot of contractors are happy to sign it if you've written it up, but don't have the time/patience to do it themselves. 

If you're worried about a contractor taking a deposit and then never showing up to do the work, you can find out (or choose) the materials that will be needed and buy them yourself to supply to the contractor.  And then pay the contractor for each item in your scope of work as they finish each item.  Don't forget to keep a hold-back (a small part of the contract price) until you're sure the work is done properly... it's your "insurance" that the contractor will find time to come back and finish the last few little things (commonly referred to as a "punch list") that never seem to get done unless you keep a hold-back.

Good luck!

@Douglas T. I seem to recall a recommendation from J. Scott to go to Home Depot in the early morning hours where you'll find some hard-working contractors. That might be a good place to start picking somebody's brains without obligating yourself to anything or anyone.

Your best option is to get a referral from friends that have used local contractors.

When you hire a contractor keep a very close eye on everything they do. Contractors will often make decisions to do things they want without any consideration for the customer. Many contractors will also cut corners and do sub par work to save money.

Watch them all the time, if you are not there while they work you must check the work every day, and make them do what you want not what they want. Contractors are often very unreliable.

Make sure you have a signed contract with precise details as to what you want, materials, colours time line etc. for doing the work. The contract details are your only protection. Tell the contractor what you want in the contract. Never pay more than 50% up front and hold back 10-20% until all the work is completed to your satisfaction.  

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