How to Choose a Contractor II

by Owen Sechrist

I recently came across this great article by one of my colleagues who is kind enough to allow me to reprint this.  I think Mike really hits on all the major points of how to evaluate a remodeling contractor when they meet with you to talk about your project. Please note that for Pennsylvanians you can look up contractor registration information by clicking here.

How to Choose a Contractor

by Mike from HR Homestead Renovations, a Manassass Virginia based custom building and remodeling firm.

No method or list can ever be complete nor can it be a guarantee that you won’t have a contractor problem. However, most people get into trouble when they fail to exercise at least a modicum of due diligence before hiring a contractor to do any job. The greatest mistake you can make is signing a contract on the first meeting. Period. Doing so gives all the advantage to the contractor and reduces your chances of finding out as much as you can about the person or company who will be working in your house, around your children, and disrupting your life for some period of time. Not to mention the money being spent. It’s not like you can go and easily return anything that you have ‘bought’ and get your money back.

13 things to look for at the first meeting with any contractor:

Does he show up on time?

Does he show up on time? Reasonable delays are ok, but if you are not that important now, what will it be like later on in the project? Did he call if he was going to be late?

Does he listen?

Does he listen or does he ramble on about how good he and his company is? If he doesn’t listen now, will he listen later? Most people want to tell a contractor what THEY want or need, not be told what they need. If he does more than just provide a few suggestions or opinions, be wary.

Has the contractor come prepared?

Has the contractor come prepared? Is he dressed appropriately for the meeting or does he look like he just got out of a crawlspace? Does he know why he is there? Does he spend an appropriate amount of time with you or is he in a rush to leave? Does he leave materials with you such as company information, products samples or brochures, or qualification paperwork?


Ask about licensing first. No sense spending time with someone who doesn’t have, or can’t produce a proper license. A good contractor will leave a copy of his license with you as well as instructions on how to check the license with the appropriate state and or/local agency responsible for licensing his business or trade. You also need to follow up with those agencies to determine if the license he shows you allows him to do the type of work you need done. Find out if there are or have been actions against the contractor through licensing boards.

Local Requirements

Ask for information on how you can find out about the state or local requirements for contractors. Most states have regulations that spell out who can do what type of work, what qualifications are required, which trades require separate licensing, what is required to be in contracts, and so on. Don’t wait until after you have signed a contract to find out that the contractor really doesn’t have the right license to do the work that is required on your project.


Ask about insurance coverage and get a copy of the declaration page. This will have all the information you need to be able to check the validity of the coverage, dates of coverage, and whether the coverage is actually for the person or company you are talking to as well as what type of work is covered. Ask about Worker’s Compensation Insurance. Virginia requires it for 3 or more employees and subcontractors need their own. The contractor can set it up so that you receive notice should his coverage lapse or comes up for renewal during your project.

Expired Licenses?

Find out when his qualifications expire. Contractor’s license, trade license, insurance certificates, etc could expire during your project. Make sure that is addressed now.

Sample Contract

Ask for a copy of a sample blank contract. Reputable companies have no problem leaving you a copy so you can review it or have your attorney check it out. While most contracts will, by design, be slanted in favor of the contractor, there should be sufficient safeguards and reasonable protection for you as well. There should be at a minimum a place for full names, addresses, and contact information for you AND the contractor, a start and end date, a specifications section that will outline or specify exactly what is to be done, a statement about your right of rescission, and other items as may be required by your state licensing agency.


Does the contractor leave you a reference list that includes a project description and date completed with contact names and numbers for each reference?

Pushy Sales Tactics

Does the contractor try to get you to sign right now? Maybe to take advantage of some ‘special’ they have going or that prices will change tomorrow? Those ploys are red flags that should be heeded. Reputable contractors respect your need to do due diligence on their qualifications, your need to check out references, and wanting to take time before committing to anything.


Does he give you a price right then and there? Some jobs are small and simple and many contractors have a lot of experience with them so getting a price on the first meeting may be logical. However, larger jobs require some preparation before a price can be given such as reviewing plans, doing a materials take off, consulting with design professionals, getting prices from sub contractors, and also consulting with you about product selections and options. Providing anything more that a wide ballpark for a large project during the first meeting just serves to give you a false sense of the real costs of the project. Be patient and wait for a realistic pricing schedule.

Concerned About Budget?

Does he ask for your budgetary constraints and how you arrived at them? While many people are fearful of tipping their hand about how much they have to spend, that is not always the best approach to take. It is a complete waste of everyone’s time to provide you with a detailed proposal for a project without knowing the budget. Being aware of your budget allows the contractor to tailor the proposal to best accommodate your desires within your budget, if possible. It’s not helpful to tell the contractor that “we have a budget of $30K but only want to spend $20K”. If you only want to spend $20K, then say so.

Still Have Concerns?

Finally, does your own post-meeting review leave you with concerns? You should feel good about the first meeting and then reinforce that feeling with the follow-up actions on qualifications and references. Set up the next meeting allowing you enough time to check out his qualifications and references. Determine the purpose of the next meeting and come prepared to ask questions and get answers. It is prudent to repeat that even doing all these things won’t guarantee a successful outcome, but it should put you on a more informed path. The more you educate yourself about the contracting process the more comfortable you will be and you will be less likely to be taken by unscrupulous contractors and con men.

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