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Buying, New Home Construction

Contractors You Can Count On: Five Tips From the Experts

I knew a couple who bought a new home and, after a few years, decided they wanted to make some upgrades to the kitchen and dining room floors, as well as upgrade the existing fireplace with some tile. They found a contractor who promised he could do both jobs. Impressed, no doubt, with his expertise and pricing, the couple hired him. And it was a disaster. The flooring work was shoddy and the tile work had some serious flaws. And, come to find out, the contractor wasn’t licensed to do the work that he did.

These are the kind of horror stories all homeowners hope to avoid; nobody wants to lose out on thousands of dollars and a much-needed upgrade because they chose a shady business over a legit one. We want to save you from that pain, which is why we reached out to contractors, real estate agents and other experts across the country to come up with a list of tips you can use to avoid a disaster and hire a contractor whose work speaks for itself – in a good way.

New construction of a house Framed New Construction of a House Building a new house from the ground up

1. Make Sure You’re Working With Someone Who is Transparent

Transparency is a word we throw around a lot in the relationship and government arena but it’s not always something we talk about concerning contractors. In fact, we may be willing to forego our devotion to transparency if the contractor has a sterling reputation – why distrust someone when so many other homeowners say amazing things about him or her?

But, says Abby Sanders, marketing manager at Stone Interiors, transparency is a crucial part of the process of finding a contractor who won’t ruin your life. “Make sure you’re working with someone who is transparent and offers to walk you through the steps of your project before expecting you to make any commitment or payment,” Sanders said.

Simple enough; but remember that “walk you through the steps” should entail more than a five-minute phone conversation. “A trustworthy contractor will want to gain a thorough understanding of your particular needs and goals before giving you a price quote,” she said. “Expect the person you’re working with to either have a detailed discussion with you over the phone or, better yet, schedule a time to meet with you in person at your home.” Good contractors want to have a comprehensive understanding of your project before offering a price point. “They’ll want to gain a full understanding of your specific goals and check out any unexpected challenges before bringing up payment,” she said.

inspector looking at the foundation to determine flood insurance premium

The transparency factor is evident in their level of commitment to the details of the job and not just a brief overview followed by a hard sell. In fact, Sanders said, beware of any contractors who quote you a price or demand payment before you feel like they have a solid grasp of what you envision. Remember, it’s your home and your money; you have every right to say no.

2. See Who’s Up Early and Ready to Go

We all know someone who has a habit of showing up to work after everyone else, sheepishly offering up excuses about why they were late. And you’ve probably read more than one article that talks about how high-achievers start their day before most people are awake.

Apply these anecdotes to your contractor, says Evan Roberts, owner of Baltimore-based Dependable Homebuyers. His advice: Head to your local home improvement store for some scouting. “The trick to finding a quality contractor is to show up at your local building supply store at the time they open,” he says. “We found that the most professional contractors are the ones who start their day early and hold a regular schedule.” See someone you like? Ask them for their business card, Roberts said.

3. Be Smart About Reading Reviews and Recommendations

Where’s the first place most of us go to find out where to eat, what movie to watch or which contractor to hire? Google. Between Google and Facebook reviews and homeowner-focused sites like Home Advisor and Nextdoor, contractor reviews are plentiful. But, says Kansas-based contractor John Hutchins, just because there are multiple positive reviews doesn’t mean they’re accurate.

“While Google Reviews are great and we all use Google, go a little deeper and check out the other sites,” he said. He gave an example of an employee from a local contracting company who was soliciting Google Reviews to win a workplace contest. “You didn’t have to even have used the services of the company. All you had to do was write a review,” he said.

Young woman looking into flood insurance

On the message-board side of things, Teris Pantazes, CEO of contractor site, be on the lookout for contractors themselves or their family members giving biased reviews or recommendations.

“There are ‘neighborhood sites’ you can use, but I’ve found may of the neighborhoods are filled with thousands of members and the ‘recommendations’ often come with biases that are not disclosed,” he says. “This is one of the biggest problems we homeowners face with online sites.”

4. Punctuality and Efficiency Are King

My wife and I dread the day we have to hire a contractor simply because we’ve heard too many horror stories of workers showing up late, not showing up at all or doing shoddy work at a sloth’s pace.

Pantazes says you could be in for problems if your contractor is late or delayed in the early stages of your discussions about the project. “I am not saying to write off any contractor that is late to a meeting; problems happen,” he says. “Timeliness is a big factor for me, though. When you call them, how fast do they respond, set up meetings and provide information when requested? Are they late for meetings without an excuse?”

A contractor who is expedient and punctual with these matters is displaying the type of positive aggressiveness that most likely will result in a job done quickly and professionally.

5. Be Wary of Big Deposits or Request for Up-Front Payment

If you were looking to take money from a homeowner looking for renovations or repairs, what’s the best way to do it? Asking for a ton of money up-front is a great way to score a lump sum and run.

Hutchins says that someone asking for a big deposit or all the money up-front is a red flag because it could mean they don’t have the money on-hand to start your project. That means your money could disappear if the contractor decides he or she needs to use it on another, more important contract.


Emily Ackerman, a licensed real estate salesperson with Bohemia Realty Group in New York, said good contractors have a multi-point payment structure. “Never trust a contractor that wants to be paid up-front,” she said. “There should be at least two or three points of payment: down payment, mid-point payment and a balance at the end.”

A Final Few Reminders For Your Contractor Search

The experts with whom we spoke had plenty to say about how to find a good contractor. Some of the additional tips given to us by the sources in this post include:

  • Hutchins: Are their work truck/van and personal appearance tidy and presentable? Do they remove their shoes when coming into your home?
  • Ackerman: Good contractors will give you a very specific bid that includes line-item pricing.
  • Pantazes: A solid contractor will have a clear and concise refund policy that gives the homeowner the advantage.

Contractors play an important role in improving the home that you own but they also are crucial in the quality of renovations or flips done to homes you’re considering buying.

Take a look at our post on questions you should ask when buying a flipped home to find out what you need to know about the people who worked on it.

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J.R. is a reporter for, uncovers the hard truths about personal finance through in-depth research and interviews with experts. He has written extensively on topics including credit cards, credit scores, debt, financial advisors, and other personal finance issues.

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