Tips to Finding a Reliable Home Renovation Contractor

Home contractors pat on back

It’s not easy to find a reliable home contractor for property upgrades, whether big or small. As a homeowner, you aren’t just worried about keeping projects on budget and on schedule. You also want a home contractor who is dependable and reputable, and who has many years of experience completing the type of property upgrade you have in mind. If you’re looking for some guidance on how to find a reliable home contractor for your next project, check out these 10 helpful tips.

Couple shakes hands with contractor

1. Use reputable sources to find a reliable home contractor

Asking friends and family members about their experiences with reliable home contractors can be a great way to find good companies to work with. But if you’re new to the area, or unsure about what your other options might be, consider online services like Angie’s List and Checkbook to find a reliable home contractor who will work for you—and not just for the bottom line.

According to Consumer Reports, the most reputable online recommendation services verify user reviews. You want to ensure that each reviewer has actually worked with the home contractor you’re interested in hiring, so you have the most accurate information.

Ygrene also works with a network of independent contractors, and you can find one close to your home or commercial building by simply clicking below.

2. Interview multiple contractors

Finding a reliable home contractor online is possible, but online reviews are no substitute for meeting with a contractor in person. And don’t forget to give yourself options, even if you have a highly-recommended contractor already in mind.

Interview multiple candidates to get a sense of what it would be like to have the person work in your home. Each contractor will likely have a different approach, budget, timeline, and relationship with subcontractors in your area.

3. Ask for references

Narrowing down your choices? Ask for references from previous homeowners, clients, subcontractors, or employees, so you can see the bigger picture. You’ll want to ask questions about how the home contractor handled changes to the contract, whether they managed to pay everyone on time, and how they treated the job site.

Did they leave the site—a former client’s home—a total mess? Do they have enough cash flow to make payments to subcontractors? These are details you should find out sooner rather than later.

4. Ask for a formal bid or estimate

Never sign an agreement with a home contractor without first seeing an estimate of the project’s costs. If you’re still deciding between multiple contractors, a bidding process might help you narrow down your options. In addition to budget and timeline, talk with them about the kinds of materials you want and any subcontractors who might be brought into the renovation.

You’ll also want to know if this home contractor has completed other projects like yours. Maybe they’re great at kitchen remodels but not at home additions. You’ll never know if you don’t ask! If your potential home contractor doesn’t discuss previous similar projects, material recommendations, or potential solutions for any of your lingering questions during the bidding process—ask.

5. Check out their license

Every reputable and reliable home contractor, including contractors authorized by Ygrene, should have the proper licenses from your municipality and state to conduct business. Ask to see these licenses, so you can check them out for yourself and make sure everything is up to date and above board.

6. Conduct a thorough background check

When a home contractor runs afoul of the law or racks up a violation with the Better Business Bureau, there will be a record of it. If your potential contractor doesn’t disclose legal issues before you sign on the dotted line, you’re well within your rights to ask—or to go looking for problems in local court records. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

7. Find out about subcontractors

Do you know which other companies or service providers—like electricians, plumbers, or carpenters—your potential home contractor likes to use? Find out, so you know more about the other vendors who will complete your property upgrade.

8. Ask about necessary insurance and permits before getting started

Before a major home improvement project gets off the ground, a home contractor will need to secure the proper permits, licensing, and insurance. Find out which permits your municipality and state requirements, so you can check in with your contractor accordingly.

Even though acquiring permits will add time to your project, the correct permits ensure your home contractor is following the law—and that your property will be properly inspected once the project is complete.

9. Draw up a contract

Ready to break ground? Wait until you draw up and sign a contract that outlines the details of your home improvement project, including a budget, timeline, a detailed list of building materials, and the responsibilities of all subcontractors.

If either you or your home contractor needs to make changes to the contract to reflect a new reality—like a problem with your subflooring or a corroded pipe—ask to sign an addendum and to see a new project estimate.

10. Be smart about your payment schedule

It’s not uncommon for a reputable and reliable home contractor to request a small upfront payment toward their total fee before they begin work. According to Home Advisor, you should never provide more than 10 percent of the fee for a large renovation project before the contractor begins work. In California, it is illegal for a contractor to ask for or accept a down payment from a homeowner for more than 10 percent of the total home improvement or $1,000, whichever is less. On the other hand, smaller upgrades with custom work could require a 30 to 50 percent payment upfront.

Only once the project is complete should you pay the rest of the fee. Make sure the fee payment schedule is outlined clearly in your contract, and that this schedule is updated each time a problem arises or a new repair is needed.

Find the perfect contractor for your job from Ygrene’s independent network of contractors

If you want to take advantage of PACE (property assessed clean energy) financing for your next home improvement project, hiring a contractor from Ygrene’s independent network of contractors to do the work can make all the difference. We train and authorize proven, dependable independent contractors in your area, skilled in the kinds of improvements you need. Ygrene continuously evaluates their performance, to ensure that they are delivering the highest level of workmanship and professionalism to each and every customer they serve through Ygrene. And more importantly for you, Ygrene will not make a payment to your independent contractor until you sign off that you are 100% satisfied with the completed work. That means that you get the final say. Search for a local contractor that specializes in the type of project you’re trying to do below.

How to Find a Reliable Home Contractor

Home contractor modifying the project plans.

For most homeowners, the hardest part of any home renovation project isn’t the work itself – it’s finding a competent and reliable contractor to do the job. Installing kitchen cabinets, knocking down walls, or retiling floors are straightforward tasks compared with the struggle of hiring a quality contractor who will perform at a high level from start to finish.

Everyone knows stories of horrendous contractors who tore apart the kitchen and never returned or projects that ended up costing three times the contractor’s original estimate.

“Those are the nightmare kind of stories I hear all the time,” says Angie Hicks, who in 1995 started the company that would become Angie’s List, a go-to resource for reviews of contractors and other service providers.

Even with a good contractor, home renovation can be stressful, expensive, and involve unpleasant surprises, such as rotted subfloors that are revealed when the tile is removed or dangerous electrical wiring or leaking pipes behind walls.

Here are some tips to find the right contractor while still keeping your budget – and sanity – under control.

Know What You Want Before You Get Estimates

13 tips for hiring and working with a contractor for home renovations

First things first: “Start with a plan and some ideas,” Hicks says. “Don’t start by talking to contractors.” You’ll get a more accurate estimate if you can be specific about what you want to be done and the materials you would like to use to make it happen.

Ask Friends, Relatives, and Co-Workers for References

People in your neighborhood who have done similar projects are great resources. If you know anyone in the building trades, ask them as well. Employees of local hardware stores may also be able to provide contractor referrals.

Interview at Least 5 Contractors

Ask a lot of questions and get a written proposal with an estimate from each. When you compare bids, make sure each one includes the same materials and the same tasks, so you’re comparing apples and apples. Dan DiClerico, smart home strategist and home expert for HomeAdvisor, recommends reaching out to as many as 10 contractors, but a detailed conversation and estimate from at least five will help you feel more confident as you compare options and make decisions about the project. “It really is such a valuable part of the process from an education and experience perspective,” DiClerico says.

Be Realistic About Availability

A contractor’s availability can depend on the time of year and where you live, but the best contractors have consistent work, so expect to wait a few months for your project to start. “Three months is going to give them time to hopefully finish up their current project and get yours on the calendar,” DiClerico says. “But if you can plan it six months out, that’s even better.”

Ask What Work Will Be Done by Subcontractors

A large renovation may require the contractor to bring in subcontractors for specialized work such as electrical, plumbing, or detailed carpentry. You’ll want to know when outside workers will be in the home, and you also want to know that your contractor will manage and supervise their work. “(Homeowners) really should have as little interaction with the (subcontractors) as possible,” DiClerico says.

Choose the Right Contractor for the Right Project

Ways to Find an Efficient Contractor to Build your House | Build Max

Someone who did a good job tiling your neighbor’s bathroom isn’t necessarily the right person to build an addition to your home. Aim to find a company that routinely does the kind of project you want to be done. “You don’t want them to use you as a guinea pig,” Hicks says.

Check Licenses, Complaints, and Litigation History

General contractors and most subcontractors should be licensed, though the procedure varies by state and municipality. Check your state disciplinary boards, Better Business Bureau, and local court records for problems. Ask the contractor for a copy of his or her license and copies of the licenses of the subcontractors who will be involved in the project.

Check References

Talk to both clients and subcontractors, who can tell you if the contractor pays them on time. Ask previous clients if the contractor’s estimate was close to the final cost, if they got along with the project manager, and if it’s possible to see close-up photos of any completed work.

Read Online Reviews

Read reviews on sites like Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Yelp, and Google to make sure the contractor is the right person for your job and will work well with you. Keep in mind that reading reviews is not a substitute for checking references. While a series of negative reviews over a long period of time should raise a red flag, one negative review or particularly nasty comment may not provide an accurate picture of the business.

Sign a Detailed Contract

Make sure your contract spells out exactly what will be done, including deadlines, payment schedule, the exact materials that will be used down to the model number, and who will provide which materials. If the builder’s contract is not detailed enough, write up your own or provide addendums. Any change in the project, whether you change your mind about products or request additional features, should generate a written change order that includes the new work, materials, and cost.

Get the Proper Permits

Nearly all home renovation projects require permits. Many fly-by-night companies, as well as some licensed contractors, will suggest that the job can be done without permits to save money, or they may not even broach the topic. Not only could that violate local ordinances and subject you to fines if you’re caught, it means the work will not be inspected by the city or county to make sure it’s up to code. Unpermitted work can also cause problems when it’s time to sell your home. Be wary of contractors who ask you to obtain the permits – that’s the contractor’s job.