Home repair projects can be intimidating to tackle yourself—but when you need to hire someone to do it for you, finding the right contractor for the job can be equally as challenging. Comparing prices, experience, and timelines is much more stressful when you have an active plumbing leak or a problem with your furnace. There are some simple things to keep in mind when the task of choosing a repair expert seems daunting.
Get advice from friends (or other contractors)
The first thing to consider when choosing a contractor is if they’re recommended by others who have hired them. Looking at reviews might give you some idea, but it’s better to get advice from people you know who have had similar work done. Another reliable source is other contractors you’ve worked with and trust who don’t do the kind of work you need for this project or repair, but may have a working relationship with someone who does. Contractors often stake their reputations on these types of relationships, so getting a recommendation from them can narrow your choices down significantly.
Check for licensing and insurance
To further weed out any potential problem contractors, look for the proper licensing and credentials. A contractor should be able to show you their insurance and licensing information up front for whatever kind of work you need done. If they don’t have that, the repair might not meet muster with your home insurance company, not to mention meeting local building codes. Anyone who can’t give you their paperwork up front shouldn’t be considered for a major repair.
Look at their work photos and descriptions
Look at a prospective contractor’s previous work, and make sure you’re hiring someone who specializes in the kind of work you need done. For instance, if you have a heat pump, and the contractor you’re looking to hire has no examples of working on a heat pump in any of their portfolio, they might not be the one for the job. If they don’t have examples of their work listed up front, ask them for some photos or descriptions of previous jobs. If they can’t or won’t provide any, it’s a red flag.
If you can find information on references for a contractor, that can help bolster any previous experience listed on their website. Checking on their work with people who have agreed to be references for them and have had work done by them in the past is a good way to make sure they’re being honest about their skill set and customer service. If a contractor has no references listed, you can ask for some, but if they can’t provide any—especially for an expensive repair—they might not have much experience. Worse yet, a contractor with no references might not want you to talk to their previous clients, as there could be a long list of dissatisfied customers.
Request bids and choose a contractor
The next step is to request some bids. The general rule is to request three bids to see if you can establish a fair price range—you can always get a few more if the prices are wildly different or if there’s not much variation in the cost. Choosing the cheapest bid isn’t always the right move because there could be a good reason the contractor is bidding low. Going with a middle range is usually the smart move. However, trusting your gut is also important. Don’t choose a contractor based only on price if you don’t have a good feeling about them. Also, if you have a specialized repair like in an older home, you might end up paying more for good work.
As part of the bidding process, you should also get an idea of the proposed timeline. A contractor who wants to start tomorrow is probably not very busy, and not being in demand at all is a red flag. However, a contractor who has no openings for a year obviously won’t work if you have an urgent repair, so again, going somewhere between those two extremes is the best call.