Consumer Protection Series: How to Hire a Contractor You Won’t Need to Fire

As much as we may fancy ourselves handy DIYers, we could all use a little outside help sometimes. When it comes to home improvement and construction projects, it can be a good idea to outsource the work to professionals. The time, money, and headaches saved can be well worth it.

Contractors make up one of the most commonly called-upon groups of construction professionals. General contractors are responsible for overseeing and carrying out the completion of projects. There are multiple job subsets within the contracting profession, such as electricians, painters, and carpenters. Each contracting subset masters a different skill; for example, electricians master the art of wiring and inspecting, installing, or troubleshooting electrical components.

No matter the type of contractor you hire, you are placing your trust in that individual. Trust is a valuable element of home renovations that can be given or taken away. When you choose a company to work in your home or business, you are allowing a contractor on your property to complete a task honestly and at a high standard.

There are risks involved with any interaction entrusting a third party with access to your personal or professional space. While those risks cannot be eliminated entirely, there are ways to mitigate them. To get started in the right direction, we’ve compiled a list of things you should — and shouldn’t — do when hiring contractors.

Do:

Work with a licensed contractor

Hiring a licensed contractor is a crucial component of finding a trustworthy professional. Licensing requirements for contractors vary by state: One may require a contractor working within its borders to be licensed, while another may not. If contractors are required to have a license before working legally in your state, you can check whether prospective hires have their legal license filed with the state.

For instance, Oregon and Virginia require contractors to obtain their license before performing any legal contracting work for which they plan to receive compensation. As a result, they have databases for licensed contractors in their state. Many states that require contractors to be licensed, like Oregon and Virginia, allow you to search by name, company name, or business phone number to make sure your contractor is licensed.

Work with a bonded contractor

The majority of states that require licensing for contractors also mandate a bond requirement. In states that do not require contractors to be licensed, make sure to find a business with a business service bond. Business service bonds are binding agreements that protect the homeowner from potential employee theft.

License bonds are a testament that the contractor will satisfy building code requirements in the area — these bonds protect the consumer. Bonded contractors prove they have your best interests in mind by shielding you from potential fraud and opening the door for opportunities to recoup losses in case of wrongdoing.

For instance, Illinois is one of many states that requires its contractors to be bonded before legally operating. More specifically, Illinois places individual municipalities and counties in charge of mandating bonds in their specific areas. For example, Illinois’ Cook County requires contractor bonds for demolitions, sign placements, private sewage disposal systems, and other contracting services.

Survey your inner circle for recommendations

Friends, family, and neighbors can provide insight on certain contractors. They may even have a regular, reliable contractor they work with; in that case, asking them for advice or the name of their trusted third party is a good idea. However, while your friends’ and neighbors’ suggestions should be considered, it is still essential for you to do your due diligence. 

Read reviews on independent websites. An independent site does not represent a conflict of interest and can provide you with reviews written by real people who have experience with the contractor you consider. Some independent rating sites include Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor

Don’t:

Hire a contractor solely based on certain factors

Understandably, you may want to seek out contractors offering the lowest price available. While contractors with low fees are undoubtedly appealing and worth considering, cost should not be the only factor in your mind. Contractors who offer a low rate and are licensed and bonded with great reviews are professionals you can consider hiring with a lower degree of worry. However, make sure there are multiple positive factors in favor of hiring a specific contractor, not just one.

It’s important to note that a contractor’s flashy or professional-looking website can act as a hook to reel you in. The contractor’s website may state that he or she is licensed, but doing your own research is key. Many contracting licenses can be verified with a simple search on a state database. A friendly website is one factor to consider, but make sure you consider multiple factors before placing your trust in a contractor: Does the contractor have examples of his or her finished work? How often do customers seek out repairs? Does the contractor follow safety guidelines? These are just a few of the other factors you will want to weigh in your decision.

Ignore signs of potential fraud

One telltale sign of a dishonest contractor rears its ugly head at the beginning of the process. Keep an eye out for contractors taking unreasonably large amounts of cash upfront — this may mean the contractor intends to take money without doing any work. As is evident on the Arizona Registrar of Contractors’ Most Wanted List, unlicensed contractors engaging in fraudulent practices tend to exhibit similar warning signs in asking for a large sum of cash at the outset.

Additionally, offenders tend to advertise on unreliable third-party websites, make outlandish claims, or shy away from allowing prospective customers to get other quotes or assessments. Investigate further when something seems too good to be true or, conversely, too vague or secretive.

Be surety-savvy when hiring

Working with contractors can be a necessary and welcome experience. If you play your cards right by doing your due diligence, you should walk away satisfied with the process of having your roof fixed or your much-needed home addition built.

If you don’t take additional steps to research your contractor, you may regret your choice and need to start the entire process over to have the work redone. Keep an eye out for licensed and bonded contractors to handle your projects. Surety bonds can help ensure the contracting process goes as smoothly as possible.

About the Author

Carly Levine
Carly is a senior at the University of Missouri studying Communications with an emphasis in Mass Media. She is a member of the marketing department and outreach team for SuretyBonds.com, a leading provider of online bonding for clients nationwide. She loves creative writing, reading, and most importantly, sushi.