Tips for Choosing a General Contractor


I wish I could say that Todd and I are doing this entire renovation ourselves, but we’re smart enough to know our limits. Besides the fact that we both have demanding full-time jobs, neither of us are the handiest people in the world, so we knew we needed to hire a general contractor to manage the bulk of the work.

Turns out, that’s a little easier said than done. Having never worked with a contractor before, we weren’t even sure where to start looking for one. We also didn’t know how to make sure we were choosing the right one—especially considering that we are essentially putting our investment in his hands, not to mention giving him a big chunk of our funds. Luckily, we learned some things along the way. Here are our tips for finding a contractor, whether you’re doing a small project in your home or a full-scale renovation.

Ask for references. We started out by asking our realtor for some recommendations. Because we specifically chose to work with a real estate firm that’s familiar with home renovations, they had quite a few good contenders in their rolodex. It was a great place to start.

Do your own research. We didn’t want to just blindly take the advice of others without seeing what else was out there, so we did some investigating of our own as well. I looked at local “best of” lists, Houzz, and just browsed Google for sites that appealed to me.

Get multiple quotes. A good contractor will put a lot of effort into creating a thorough quote for your project, and at times I felt guilty for asking potential contractors to spend so much time on something when we might not hire them. But remember: This is how they sell themselves. It’s all part of the process. Get at least three quotes so you can compare them and choose one that works for you.

Don’t automatically choose the lowest quote. We had one contractor who came in with a quote about $25,000 above our budget. But when we told him that we were thinking of going with someone else, he magically dropped it $20K, then another $10K. The price was right, but we felt like he had given us the runaround, and we questioned how much we could trust him.

Find someone who’s comfortable with your type of project. We are renovating a historic home, and it was important to us that we found a contractor who was aware of the needs of this kind of project. One guy seemed perplexed by many standard features of the home, as if he’d never been in an old house before—immediate rejection. Another suggested doing away with several historic features. Nope.

Go with your gut. You’re going to be working closely with this person for several weeks or even months. You really should like them and trust them. If something about them rubs you the wrong way—whether they seem condescending or dishonest or inexperienced—then don’t feel bad about eliminating them from the running. Do your research, trust your instincts, and you’ll find someone to help you get the job done.