The Ultimate Guide to Finding an Incredible Contractor


Two weeks ago I called six different contractors to come take a look at a small repair job on my personal house.

Every single one went to an answering machine or voicemail. Okay, understandable. They are busy working. I’ll leave a message.

In total, four of them called me back, and I scheduled four different appointments with each of them to get me an estimate. Of the four appointments, two of them never showed up.

Of the two remaining, one said he didn’t know how to do the job. The other said he would call me back with an estimate in 24 hours. It’s been a week — and now his phone is disconnected.

And I still need the repair job done.

For anyone who’s ever tried to hire a contractor or handyman for their home or business, this story probably sounds a bit familiar. It’s difficult! Of the 100+ guests we’ve had on the BiggerPockets Podcast, I would rate “finding a contractor” as the number one difficulty mentioned by investors.

Why is it so tough?

Well, there are two primary reasons I see:

  1. Contractors are not generally not good business owners. This problem is part of the “E-myth” mentality — that just because someone can bake doesn’t mean they can run a bakery. Just because someone can swing a hammer doesn’t mean they can answer phone calls or show up on time!
  2. Real estate investors are always looking for a good deal now, which means we don’t typically call the “big guys” (those who ARE good at running their business) because we know they’ll be too expensive, will be too big for small maintenance jobs, and will be booked out three months.

So what should an investor do? How can we add a contractor to our “team?”

Let me give you a few pointers on how you can hire a good contractor or handyman.

Related: 3 Types of General Contractors (& How to Choose One for Your Project)

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How to Find an Incredible Contractor or Handyman

1.) Be Proactive, Not Reactive

Have you ever heard the old phrase “the the best time to look for a job is when you don’t need one?”

The same principle applies to contractors. If you are “reactive” in your search for a contractor, only waiting until something happens and you need to “react,” you are setting yourself up for problems to begin with. Instead, be proactive. Finding good contractors is a lifestyle, not a one-time event. Have a continually evolving list of people you could call for various problems, and continue to add people to the list even when you don’t need someone at the moment.

I ask nearly every person I meet in public if they have a good contractor because I know that the success of my business hinges upon the people I hire to take care of problems. The same will likely be true for your business, so be proactive and start looking for great contractors today.

2.) Understand Price vs. Cost

When you buy something, are you buying based on price or cost?

Confused? I was too, but several days ago I read something from the late Zig Ziglar in which he discusses the difference between price and cost, and suddenly I realized a huge error I’ve been making in my investing business for the past decade. I’ve been hiring contractors based on price, not cost! Let me explain.

Price is the monetary amount paid when you purchase something, but cost is the long term monetary amount paid over the life of a product or service. For example, the price of dishwasher A might be $400, and the price of dishwasher B might be $500 — but if dishwasher A costs an extra $20 per month in energy to run, it would have been smarter to buy dishwasher B!

You see, buying for cost rather than price is a subtle difference, but it can have a tremendous effect on your business. This principle also applies to hiring a contractor. Are you hiring on price or cost? If you are like me, price is probably the largest concern. But if you hire someone because their price is cheap, you might be setting yourself up for a lifetime of high cost on that repair.

So when hiring a contractor, don’t necessarily choose the cheapest option. You might think you are getting a great deal, but in the long run you’ll end up spending MUCH more. For two years of my investing business, I hired a local handyman to do most of my work because he was the lowest price. It’s been two years since he stopped working for us, and not a week goes by that I don’t find something that was done wrong that I now have to pay to fix. If only I had hired based on cost instead of price!

As Mike F, an investor from Colorado, recently stated in the BiggerPockets Forums, “We learned long ago, the old adage for construction has always ringed true: Pick any two: Price, Quality, Service. You can’t have all three.”

3.) Ask for Referrals

This is an obvious one, but so important I can’t skip it! One of the best ways to find good contractors is by simply asking others who they have used for similar work!

When people ask me who my best contractors are, I have no problem telling them because I know it will help out my contractor AND look good on me. I want my contractor to love working for me and to always put me at the top of his list, and giving him more work via referrals is a great way to do that.

So don’t be shy in asking other investors who they use!

You can always ask other real estate investors, but also ask family, friends, and agent Jon Deavers points out, “Good Realtors work by referral to generate their own business, and part of that is by making good referrals to other professionals. You can bet if you have an experienced Realtor, he/she is going to refer someone that has completed work and made their previous clients happy.”

4.) Check References

Always check references.


This is especially true when dealing with contractors. Despite what you might think, even references supplied by the contractor will generally be honest with you, and you’ll learn a lot. Ask to see examples of the kind of work you plan on getting done.

Megan C., an investor from Decatur, Texas recently told me she always asks for three referrals from the most recent jobs they’ve completed — and then calls those references to ask “if they showed up on time or when they said they would, did they complete the work, did they try to change the $$ amount mid-work or after it was done, and would you use them again.

Excellent advice!

5.) The 6:00 a.m. Home Depot Trick

One of the most clever ideas I’ve ever heard for finding contractors came from house flipper J Scott (author of the best house flipping book ever written, called The Book on Flipping Houses) on the 10th episode of the BiggerPockets Podcast.

J’s suggestion: Go to Home Depot at 6:00 a.m. and meet the contractors what are there. These are the contractors who get up early and get their supplies before heading over to the job site. This is a strong indication that they know what they are doing and are not going to take advantage of you.

Although this is no silver bullet, it can weed out the ambitious contractors from those who sleep till noon to fight off the hangover from last night’s party.

6.) Ask Store Employees

Darren Sager, a real estate investor from New Jersey, suggests visiting supply stores (for example, a plumbing supply store if you need plumbing or a lumber yard if you need something built) and ask the employees who work there who they would have work on their houses. These employees have a unique insight into the quality of materials that the contractors use, as well as the experience level and management style of those who buy from them.

7.) Place Craigslist Ads

Have you checked Craigslist for contractor ads? Or even better, have you placed an ad yourself? One of the best handymen I have came after we placed a free ad on Craigslist asking for local handymen who can do occasional tasks for our real estate investment company. We received several responses, hired each to do a small task, and quickly found a great guy who we use often for small tasks.

8.) Make Them Compete

Sometimes the best answer is not finding one contractor, but several who can compete for your business, says Royce Jarrendt, a home builder from Virginia. Jarrendt says, “the best solution to finding a good contractor is find three good contractors. It’s way too easy to get cozy with what you think is a good situation with a contractor. Competition is what drives price and quality. All of my contractors know that I know other contractors and because I am honest, respectful and fair, they are willing to give me their best… price, quality, attention.”

I know some investors call three to five contractors to do a bid and tell them all the same time, both to minimize the hassle of meeting multiple contractors and encouraging lean bids.

9.) Who Do They Like to Follow?

Another suggestion that came from the BiggerPockets Podcast was to ask good subcontractors who they like to follow. In other words, what drywall person does the painter like to follow after? What framer does the plumber like to follow after?

Related: 14 Killer Questions to Ask Your Contractor

If you ask for referrals from other subcontractors, you can gain valuable insight from those who have to work where the last guy left off!

10.) Be Clear On Your Expectations

With all this talk about finding a good contractor, there is also something to say about your responsibility in the relationship. Oftentimes a “bad” contractor only appears bad because they did not have clear enough expectations given to them at the start of a job. Martin Scherer, in investor from Santa Rosa, California, says to give them clear detailed instructions of your needs. “Contractors are not mind readers. If you give contractors a clear list of expectations you will find your task much easier.” 

Wrapping it Up: Finding Contractors

A great contractor or handyman can make your real estate investing life smooth sailing, but a difficult contractor can make you wish you never bought a piece of real estate (and keep you from buying any more).

Sure, finding good, reliable contractors can be difficult, but if there is only one thing you remember after reading this post: finding contractors is a verb! In other words, it’s something that you physically have to do in your business, and something that never really ends. You cannot sit by and wait for the ideal contractor to walk into your life.

You must get out there and find them.

Now it’s your turn: How do YOU find contractors?

Let me know (and the other readers) by leaving a comment below!

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner (G+ | Twitter) spends a lot of time on Like... seriously... a lot. Oh, and he is also an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, traveler, third-person speaker, husband, and author of "The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down", and "The Book on Rental Property Investing" which you should probably read if you want to do more deals.


  1. Ricky Williams

    Great article. Dealing with contractors has been the most difficult start up part of building my single family home business. At this point, I am finally happy with the contractors I have (and they aren’t the big chain companies that charge and arm and a leg).

    When I choose to use a contractor for the first time, I usually have “the talk” with them to lay out expectations. I tell them that I have this talk with everyone who first works with me so they don’t think they are singled out. It goes something like this (covering items #1-3 first and working through the other items over the next few jobs).

    1. You run a business and are likely a very busy person. I understand that you can’t drop everything and take my job sometimes – that is fine. However, please don’t tell me that you will be at a certain place and do a repair if you can’t get there. We can schedule the repair at a time more convenient for you or I will use someone else for this job. If you turn me down for this job because you can’t take it – DON’T WORRY, I WILL CALL YOU AGAIN FOR FUTURE JOBS.

    2. You are an extension of me. When you don’t show up at a renter’s house. They don’t care WHY you didn’t show up – they just know that I (landlord) dropped the ball. This is the #1 reason that I won’t use you again if it is a recurring problem.

    3. I pay FAST, but do need an invoice. When you give me an invoice, I pay immediately either in person, right then, or I mail the check the next business day. You won’t wait on money from me.

    4. When you work with me and we reach a level of trust, you can just go do the work and invoice me. I won’t waste your time having you do multiple trips to the property to do an estimate and then another trip to do the actual repairs. Furthermore, if something else is broken when you get to the property, and it is a small repair, you have my trust to decide what to repair and how to do it. You are empowered.

    5. I value your time. As much as possible, I will let you schedule your jobs with the renters to coordinate with other work you have going on as well as potentially save gas by doing my jobs when you are in the area anyhow.

    6. I run well-maintained properties and believe that cutting corners is a losing plan in the long run. Please fix things correctly and don’t worry about saving pennies to make me happy. I want things fixed correctly, and you are empowered to do so.

    Item #6 always get a strange reaction. Contractors work with so many cheapskate landlords (or management companies that charge the owner a lot and keep the rest) that they can’t believe I want things done right. Amazing how many houses I’ve bought where ripped out door knobs were plastered over. All the time doing that added up to likely more than just replacing the door!

    Hope this helps. Have patience. View every repair as an opportunity to add a contractor to your contact list. Also, give a lot of thought if you were in the contractor’s shoes. What should you be doing as the customer to make yourself be the customer that the contractor LOVES to work with?

    • Micah Watson on

      Love it! I am a contractor…..can I do work for you?! Lol. This approach is truly the best way to get and keep a good contractor. When I get a client who takes this approach to a relationship, I will bend over backwards to keep them happy! So this is a great path to a mutually beneficial relationship. You truly understand the nuances of what a contractors basic desires are for their business. You will get the best value from your contractor if you use this approach in dealing with them. Thanks for your comment!

    • Chanté Owens

      Excellent comment. I definitely will be keeping this in mind in respect to working with people in general, not just contractors. I’m in a business where referrals are exchanged and relied upon to grow our businesses; therefore, I appreciate #2 “You are an extension of me.” So true, but often forgotten by people. It’s worth repeating over and over again.

      Empowerment! Wow, what a concept. There was a comment on the site awhile ago about someone who has a PM company handling things for them; yet, that company calls/emails for every little thing, and awaits the landlord to advise on how to proceed. In my opinion, that PM is clearly not empowered to do work. Now, that’s not to say you want people just doing things willy nilly, but there is a level of trust that you must develop over time and trust that they will do what’s right. This will save a lot of time, and stress on the owner(s)…just my .02.

      Again, great post by Brandon, and an excellent comment.

    • Chris Harjes

      Very refreshing to hear! I’m a newbie investor/landlord, having started from scratch this year and now up to 5 properties, all in various stages of almost-done (but fortunately all rented despite that in our wacky market in Asheville)

      I must say I’m a little intimidated by the main article’s process for vetting and working with contractors, and have been doing nearly exactly what you have, with fairly good results. My only failures have been when I simply didn’t have a good affordable option, and shortcutted or ignored the above list because I had to take whatever was offered (I’m in the same position with contractors as my renters are with my properties- availability is the only prerequisite)

      Thanks for the concise list of what to watch out for and how to establish good relationships with the few available workers we have here. 🙂

  2. Mike Hartzog

    Great article Brandon. I have built houses as a part time activity in the past, and I think the issue is similar. Because I was not an established general contractor, I really didn’t have the contractor relationships that a typical general contractor would have. I found that referrals where my #1 way to find decent contractors. I asked everyone I knew in construction for them. I even asked the contractors I found to refer me to contractors for other trades. It worked well for me, and when I called them I could reference the person who provided the referral. I think this provides an extra incentive for the contractor to not only work with you but to perform well, because they don’t want word getting back to the person that referred them that they performed poorly.

  3. David Semer

    Great article. As i was starting out. My biggest challenge working with contractors was feeling like maybe it was me and I can’t find anybody good. Why can’t I find the right contractor with a good price for an investor everybody else does not have that problem.(So it felt) Great ways of dealing with this. Thanks for the article.
    @Ricky Williams great tips and advice. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Daniel Hamilton

    Nice job Brandon.
    I think @Ricky Williams has some great ideals here and we should all pay attention to them. The only thing I might add is that we don’t live in a perfect world. You should always “check out” the work at some time or another. Even if you don’t understand what you are looking at you should check the work. If you do not understand, the more you are involved and observe, the more you will begin to understand.
    I also agree with @ Mike Hartzog. Contractors should be able to tell you who they like to “work after”. Many jobs follow a previous job and the person in front of you can make your job easy or hard. A good contractor will know who the other good contractors are.

  5. Larry S.

    My good contractors have all been found by stopping at their van parked on the street. In a ten minute talk you can get a good feel if you want to try them. Some will be decent while some will be total jerks that you would not want to hire even at the best quality work at the lowest price. You can drive by and see if they are at work early, have a helper, have good quality tools, and clean up nicely. For contractors working on the inside you can knock on the door. The home owner will always let you in to talk. This also allows you to follow up with the owner to see how satisfied they were with the work.

    By finding the good guys over the years you can eventually develop a relationship where you no longer ask for a price, Just go do what needs done.

  6. melvin benzaquen

    I feel that another factor that is very important is to educate yourself enough to understand what the problem is and what it takes to remedy it no matter what it is or how large the project may be.
    You are less likely to be taken advantage of if the contractor gets the feeling that you know what is going on. It also makes the decision on who to use an easier one if you feel they have the knowledge about the problem and how to fix it.

  7. Luis Roa

    Brandon, for me the post would’ve been more effective if it would started with a story of how you applied each of the techniques you explain. Or how they made a difference the next time you applied them. It felt a little bit like: do as I say, not as I do. Because you didn’t really do what you seem to know very well (and that you explain in the remaining portion of the post). I want to learn of techniques that actually work vs techniques that make sense, but are not really used, or are not as effective, etc. To better explain my point, think about the style that Tim Ferris uses in his books (for example the 4-hour body): he is trying to find the most effective techniques, not only techniques that could work, but the most effective ones. And he experiments with them, until he empirically finds what really works.

    Appologies in advance for the criticism, but sometimes criticism is what makes us grow.


  8. Ryan Hutt

    As a Licensed General Contractor, and having most of my work coming through investors I can give you a few tips that will help you ensure a better relationship with your contractor.

    Make a list of repairs you need and know what you want.

    Purchase the “finishes” (i.e. toilets, faucets, sinks, etc.) yourself to save your contractor time and so he knows what he is installing before he begins the job.

    Ask your Contractor for a payment schedule if it’s a thorough project. This helps avoid confusion and gives him benchmarks to meet before progress payments are made.

    Be wary of special order material, it never arrives on time, is hard to replace, and can often be damaged. If I cant get an easy replacement, we both could be waiting weeks for nothing.

    Ask your Contractor for his vendor (supplier) list. He will usually have vendors that he has developed a relationship with and can get items on time and at a better price then you could most likely find yourself. This is easiest way to save both time AND money!

    Save your paperwork (receipts and manuals) for warranties, especially on appliances.

    Pay your contractor on time! This is the most important thing!

    Do a walk through and create a punch list together that can be emailed so you are both on the same page for what needs to be completed before final payment can be made.

    Don’t be negative all the time! Point out the good AND the bad!

    Trust is more important then the bottom line (price), always go with a contractor you can trust rather then the one that has the lowest price. The other thing to consider when getting multiple bids is to make sure you are comparing things equally. Are both contractors licensed, insured, fully tooled, etc? Beware of the lowest bid, especially if it is significantly lower then the others! VALUE is what you should look for!

    Good luck!

    -Ryan H
    San Diego, CA

  9. curtis allen

    Rick has the right ideas I’m a contractor and I even have problems dealing with subs, but being up front from the get go and having written contracts with detailed work is a must. I have a saying that I always stick to “people do what you inspect not what you expect” it has taken me years to develope good relationships with my subs so that they know what I expect on my flips. We get a lot of work from realtors by word of mouth. Talk to realtors they usually know of some good contractors that are dependable and can price work fairly that won’t cost you an arm and leg.

  10. I agree that you should ask for referrals. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to go about finding a service. Hopefully I can find someone in my area that will help me out with finding a contractor. We need all the help we can get.

  11. Awesome article! Love the Home Depot trick. My guy is a contractor managing several jobs at once… you won’t find him at 6 a.m. at Home Depot because he is on the phone with all his guys – who ARE at the Pro Desk picking up supplies in several cities at 6 a.m. wearing our company shirts! Our shirts have his license number printed on them for people to look up his credentials. I never thought of that added advertising, but it is absolutely true. Our guys are there very early!

    Best advice: Look for the Contractor shirts at the Pro Desk at 6 a.m. at Home Depot! Verify that they are licensed!

  12. I really like what you said about price vs. cost. I think that a lot of people are too focused on the price of things. It clouds their judgment and they end up buying the option that’s most affordable in the moment. The inherent problem with that is that the cheapest option generally requires the most repairs or maintenance in the future. If you buy the more expensive one, you avoid that problem. Hopefully more people realize that in the future when making these decisions.

  13. My husband and I have been wanting to do some remodeling to our kitchen and living room. We live in a fairly old home and it could use a few upgrades! We have been researching a few different general contractors to help us with our project. I think that one of the best ways to find a contractor is to ask your friends and family. You can get a face to face review and know how their experience was. Thank you for the wonderful insights!

  14. Great article. Unfortunately for the public, those great contractors seem to be a dying breed. Aside from just changing the method in which you go about finding contractors, there are also some questions you should ask once you have made it past Stage 1.

    • Checking with the contractor to make sure they are adequately and properly covered by insurance is VITAL.
    • Question any warranties offered on the services you will be receiving.
    • Make sure they are fully licensed and certified.
    • Do some background search on their level of experience and any user reviews.

    Making an educated decision may take a little more time when first forming a relationship, but it is definitely worth it in the long run. The next time you have a project, you will know you have a reliable and valuable craftsman ready to serve you.

  15. These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to be proactive when finding contractors. You never know when different problems will arise, and it\’s best to have several people you can contact for help for many different situations. I\’ll definitely keep that in mind and start creating a list of good contractors. Thanks for the great post!

  16. My wife and I are planning on doing some renovations on our home and we have been trying to find a good general contractor. We really liked your tip about making the contractors compete. We have a couple in mind that we have been trying to narrow down, and I think having them compete would be a great way to weed out the weak. Thank you for sharing.

  17. I really liked the idea you gave to go to Home Depot at 6 a.m. and talk to the contractors who are there. As you say, these are the contractors who get up early and get their supplies before heading over to the job site. Honestly, I would have never thought of doing this before, but it\’s a really great trick! You will definitely be able to find hard working, reliable contractors this way. Thus, I will try it out! Thank you for sharing!

  18. I really appreciate your comment about price vs. cost. You are right, this is something I haven\’t even thought about it. I will discuss it with my husband for sure before we make a decision. We are looking for a contractor now to remodel our basement. Thanks for the helpful tips, I will keep them in mind.

  19. I’d like to find a good contractor to help me build a small shed in my backyard. However, I don’t want to be stuck with someone that takes two months to get stuff done. I want someone great that will get to work. It might be interesting to make a few compete like you were saying.

  20. I appreciate your tip on checking references when looking for a general contractor. I would imagine that checking a contractor\’s references would give you a good feel for how they work and help you decide if they\’re right for you. My wife and I are looking to hire a contractor to help with an upcoming remodel so when we do we\’ll be sure to check their references.

  21. I had no idea that buying for cost rather than price can have a tremendous effect on your business. I have always tried my best to keep everything I do cost efficient, but will look at the price some of the time. I will have to remember that it can affect everything I do.

  22. Thank you for this helpful information of how to find a reliable contractor. I especially liked the point about understanding price and cost. I will want quality work that will not cost me extra in a long term situation. Another thing to consider would be to find someone who is licensed and qualified for the specific task.

  23. I appreciate your tip on asking for referrals from a remodeling contractor. I would imagine that if they are ready to give you the names of several people it would be a good way to ensure they are reliable. We’re looking to remodel our home so before we do I’ll be sure to ask any potential contractor for a list of references and contact them.

  24. I agree that you always need to check references when hiring a remodeling contractor. I would imagine that it would be important to find someone who is well liked by past clients. My husband and I are looking to remodel our home so we\’ll have to get references and check them before we hire a contractor.

  25. You bring up a really good question to add a contractor to your team. Do you mean literally have them be part of your team, or just reach an agreement with them to use them frequently? I would imagine that a partnership like this would be extremely beneficial to the contractor and they might even be able to learn some better business practices from the relationship.

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