Whether you’ve got so much water flooding your basement that you could reenact scenes from the movie Waterworld or you just can’t stand to look at the drab paint on your living room walls another day, finding the best contractor for a project can be difficult.

When the work is completed, you have to live with the results—good or bad. Choosing the right contractor is the key to a project you’re proud of and that adds value to your home. Take a look at our simple steps to ease the process and help you hire a company that will leave you with the dream you envision.

How to Start Your Contractor Search

Review your project

Before reaching out to a contractor, first outline the details of your project. Do your best to solidify the following details:

  • What you want done
  • How soon you'll need the work started and completed
  • How much you can afford to spend

While your answers will vary based on the type of project you have in mind, knowing what you want in advance can give the contractor a clear idea of your expectations. Keep in mind that the timetable you set is an estimate, and it should be flexible.

Some jobs may require more time if materials are out of stock or if you experience inclement weather. Some contractors will not be able to start work immediately, so if you know that the leak in your roof won’t wait for two weeks, try to pick a company that can start sooner rather than later. However, don’t settle for a subpar company just because of better availability.

Knowing in advance that you have a hard deadline or a more flexible timetable can help you choose the right contractor for the job. Whenever possible, try to plan projects far enough in advance to get a quality company.

Where to Find a Good Contractor

contractor installing a windowUse a trusted source

Best Pick Reports was founded in 1997 to help homeowners connect with top-quality contractors. By evaluating and documenting the experiences of homeowners, we can narrow down the best companies for your projects.

Each year, we rate companies in nine major metropolitans areas based solely on the surveys conducted by GuildQuality, the nation’s leader in satisfaction surveying for contractors. Companies that are deemed a Best Pick according to our stringent qualification standards are invited to participate in our publication. In addition to requalifying every year, each Best Pick must maintain general liability and state-required insurance as well as any required licensing for its field.

If you’re not in one of our markets—Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Maryland / DC, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, or South Florida—use the steps below to help narrow down potential companies.

NOTE: If you decide to use another method to select a contractor, it’s important to perform research on each company you’re considering. While there are other services that advertise similar methods, double-checking their claims will ensure that you are choosing the best company.

Finalize Your Contractor Selection

couple reading contract documentsResearch your top options

Once you have an idea of what you need, you can start to compile a list of contractors who can perform the job. It’s helpful to talk to people who have had similar work done on their homes. Not only can they refer you to a contractor, but you can also learn about the process before you experience it for yourself.

Once you gather a list of contractors who seem to fit your needs, the real research begins. Answer the following questions to determine if the company you’re considering is right for your job:

  • Does the company have a brick-and-mortar office or a home office?
  • How long has the company been in business? Is it family owned?
  • Does the company have the proper insurance and licenses for their line of work?
  • Is the company a part of any professional organizations?
  • Has the company won any awards or earned any certifications?
  • How experienced is the company with the kind of work you want done?
  • Does the company have any customer reviews? If so, are they mostly positive? What do the low-ranked reviews say?

Pick a company that has significant experience with the type of work you need. The company’s history and length of time in business is important, too—if you encounter problems after the project is completed, you’ll want a company that will be there in the future to help you through any issues. 

Check if the company has any complaints filed against them—professional licensing bodies will often list on their sites any complaints against the company or an individual, along with the details of the license, such as license type, expiration date, and issue date.

While price is important to the decision-making process, you should not choose a contractor on price alone. A low-priced contractor may seem attractive, but you could be sacrificing reliability and quality.

Interview companies on your short list

After you’ve narrowed down your list, begin contacting companies to discuss the specifics of your project. At this point, you can relay your vision to the contractor, and the contractor should give you project details and a cost breakdown.

You can use this discussion to address any concerns you have and get an idea of how the project will be completed. The contractor should be able to tell you when to expect the work to be done (morning, afternoon, daily, weekly), if there will be one or more contractors working at a time, and if there will be a supervisor to manage the team.

Also, the contractor should inform you of how the job will be performed—Will they pressure wash the house before they paint? Will you need to move any furniture out of the way? Will you need to provide materials before the job begins?

Ask the company for a list of references, and don’t be shy about contacting the people included and arranging a time to view the work the company did for them. While company-supplied references will usually have positive things to say about the business, it’s helpful to see real-life examples of the company’s work. Make sure to ask these questions if you speak with any references:

  • Were you satisfied with the work?
  • Was the work completed on time?
  • Did you experience any issues with the company? If so, were these issues resolved?
  • Did you have any communication problems with the company?

After the initial conversation, the contractor should provide you with a written description of the work that will be performed, along with the estimate and timeline. Companies should offer a guarantee for their work, and you should not be required to pay for the total cost of the project up front. Be wary of companies that require cash only or that insist on full payment for the job before the work is finished.

Hire the chosen company

After you have reviewed two or more bids from companies, choose the company that best meets your needs. All project details should be in writing, including any verbal commitments made earlier in the sales pitch.

Before you sign the contract, read it thoroughly and ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Once you sign the contract, you are obligated to follow through with the signed agreement, so be careful before you make a commitment.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re hiring a contractor to beautify your home or to complete some much-needed repairs, you want to hire the most qualified people you can. It’s important to do your research before opening your door to any company.

A poorly chosen contractor could invite problems that you will have to live with for many years. The right contractor can help relieve some of the stress associated with the home improvement process.

By thoroughly researching companies and asking the right questions beforehand, you can identify contractors that are the best pick for you and your home.