Home Sweet Home Improvement: Finding a Reliable Contractor

Home Sweet Home Improvement: Finding a Reliable Contractor
Image: NCCC
September 1, 2015

Whether you're planning an addition for a growing family or simply getting new storm windows, finding a competent, reliable and trustworthy contractor is the first step to a successful and satisfying home improvement project.

Your home may be your most valuable financial asset. That's why it's important to be cautious when you hire someone to work on it. Home improvement and repair and maintenance contractors often advertise in newspapers, the Yellow Pages, and on the radio and TV. However, don't consider an advertisement to be an indication of the quality of a contractor's work.

Your best bet is a reality check from those in the know: friends, family members, neighbors, or co-workers who have used local contractors or designers in the past. If you've already received estimates, ask for explanations on price variations. Don't automatically choose the lowest bidder and don't always choose the contractor or company being referred to you by an insurance company or home warranty company, unless your contract mandates otherwise.

Depending on the size and complexity of your home improvement project, you may choose to work with a number of different professionals, including:

  • General Contractors
  • Specialty Contractors
  • Architects
  • Designers
  • Design / Build Contractors
  • Solicits door-to-door
  • Offers you discounts for finding other customers
  • Just 'happens' to have materials left over from a previous job
  • Only accepts cash payments
  • Asks you to get the required building permits
  • Does not list a business number in the local telephone directory
  • Tells you your job will be a 'demonstration'
  • Pressures you for an immediate decision
  • Offers exceptionally long guarantees
  • Asks you to pay for the entire job up-front
  • Suggests that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows

Interview each contractor you're considering. Some important questions to ask include:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Are you licensed and registered with the state? Do note that, depending upon the type and cost of the work, not all contractors are required to be licensed. You can find specific information about whether your projects qualify from the North Carolina Board of Examiners. From there, you can verify that the person or company is currently licensed.
  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year? Ask for references.
  • Will my project require a permit? If so, who is responsible for securing the permitting?
  • Will you be using subcontractors on this project? If so, verify all licensing of the everyone working on the project. Don't assume or take someone's word that a subcontractor or employee of a contractor is licensed. A reputable contractor will likely provide you with his or her license number before you have a chance to ask. Often, the license number is printed on the estimate.
  • What types of insurance do you carry? If someone working on your house doesn't complete the job properly, you may incur a loss if the contractor is not insured. Also, if the contractor is injured or injures another on your property and is not insured, you or your insurance company may be responsible for all damages. Get proof of coverage and verify that the coverage is in effect before allowing any work to begin.

Talk with some of the contractor's former customers. A reputable contractor should have no issue providing you with a reference list. They can help you decide if a particular contractor is right for you. Don't be afraid to ask detailed questions. You may want to ask:

  • Can I visit your home to see the completed job?
  • Were you satisfied with the project?
  • Was the job completed on time and within budget?
  • Did the contractor keep you informed about the status of the project, and any problems along the way?
  • Were there unexpected costs? If so, what were they?
  • Did workers show up on time? Did they clean up after finishing the job?
  • Would you recommend the contractor?
  • Would you use the contractor again?