How to Find a Good Contractor for Home Improvement Repairs

contractorApril 27, 2011 is a day that many people in my small neighborhood in Knoxville, Tennessee won’t soon forget. An outbreak of tornadoes and other devastating weather systems wreaked havoc in Tennessee, as well as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia, changing the lives of millions. Looking back on that experience, the hailstorm was probably the least frightening aspect of that fateful day. I knew then that it was going to be a long and complex process to put the pieces back together.

Choosing a contractor to complete the work on the roof and siding of my house became a daunting task. Yards were littered with advertisements for a multitude of contractors – some local, others hailing from far away – looking to profit off of the events of the storms.

Eventually, I began to hear horror stories about home repair scams. Neighbors who had their roofs replaced by an out-of-state contractor found themselves standing in puddles of water pooling on their living room floors thanks to poor roofing. Others were trying to figure out how to pay for repairs after turning over their insurance payouts to contractors who requested cash up front, only to never return.

After all was said and done, I located a reputable company to perform the work at a fair price. The repairs were completed on time, within my budget, and with a warranty.

Regardless of whether you need a contractor to address storm damage or you just need a little help remodeling the bathroom, there are several tips you can follow to find a reputable company.

Tips to Select and Work With Contractors

1. Stay Local
Choosing a local contractor means that the company has a permanent place of business in your hometown. It also means that he or she has a business license, a telephone number, and local references you can verify. Most importantly, it means someone will be nearby if there is an issue with the work performed.

2. Ask Your Insurance Company for Recommendations
If you are unsure of which contractor to choose, ask your insurance company. You can do this even if they are not paying for the work. Most insurance companies have agreements with reputable local contractors. Not only can you take advantage of the review process your insurance company has performed on these companies, but you might even get a price break based on the relationship between the contractor and your insurance company.

3. Check Credentials
It’s fine to check with the Better Business Bureau when determining which contractor to use, but don’t stop there. Request a list of references, and be sure to contact them. Any reputable contractor knows that the best way to generate new business is to let their past work and customer satisfaction speak for them.

Furthermore, ask your family, friends, and neighbors who they’ve used in the past, and whether there were any issues. If they did have issues, find out if they were amicably resolved.

Additionally, check for reviews online. Utilize customer review sites like Angie’s List – it will cost you a few dollars to gain access to these reviews, but they are generally more detailed and reliable than Better Business Bureau profiles. You can also check websites of local TV stations and newspapers for consumer advocacy reports.


4. Check the Contractor’s License and Insurance
After you create a shortlist of contractors, narrow down your list by calling and asking the contractors for their license numbers and certificates of insurance. All contractors, regardless of the state in which they operate, are required to have a business license and insurance coverage. Having a business license number will allow you to contact your local municipality and determine whether the contractor is legally in business, while the certificate of insurance will ensure that the contractor is covered in the event anything goes wrong.

5. Get It in Writing
Be sure to request a written quote for both labor and materials costs, as well as a final total. Obtaining multiple quotes can help you save money when hiring a contractor. Also, be certain to request a provision on your quote that states that you must be notified of any changes or additions to what has been agreed upon. This will protect you from unexpected charges when it’s time to settle the balance.

If changes to your original quote are necessary, document them on your original quote, and ensure that both you and the contractor sign it. Additionally, your quote should contain applicable information regarding warranties or guarantees on work performed and materials used.

Keep this agreement in a safe place until your warranty expires in the event that you ever have to pursue legal action against the contractor.

6. Don’t Pay for Labor Up Front
It isn’t uncommon for a contractor to ask for money before starting a job to cover materials and such, but be extremely wary of anyone who asks you to pay for the entire job in advance. This is a red flag that the contractor is shady, especially if he or she is from out-of-town.

7. Ask for Copies of Receipts
It’s common for contractors to require a deposit for materials before a job begins. However, it’s a good idea to request copies of any receipts to document what your money is being used for. In some cases, the insurance company will require that certain expenses be documented in order to support your claim, but even if your insurance company is not involved, keeping tabs on your money is always a good idea.

Final Word

Contractors are a valuable resource for anyone looking to have repairs or improvements made to their homes. They provide quality, professional results that will add beauty and value to any project, while removing the frustration of trying to do it yourself. By employing the tips above, you can make sure that you are dealing with a reputable professional and not a sub-par contractor or, worse yet, a criminal.

What other tips do you have for finding the best contractor? Have you ever had a bad experience with a contractor?

  • Jay

    Good tips! Also, protect yourself and make sure any contractor is licensed and insured or you may be liable for any property damage and/or worker injuries that result.

  • JEM

    Good tips, we are remodeling our kitchen right now, so this was timely for us.

    We got estimates from about 6 companies before we picked one. We got them from Lowes, Home Depot, Sears, and three private little guys. We picked the one that had a great price, we felt comfortable with him, and we got to see some samples of his work. We went with one of the little guys! The service is more personal and the price and quality in this instance was actually better!

    To drive down the cost, as we are on a budget, we did what we could ourselves. For instance he is doing the cabinets, but we pulled our old ones out ourselves. Also, he is installing the granite counter tops, but we are doing the tumbled stone back splash ourselves. This mix has worked for us. I can’t wait to use my new kitchen.

  • Ryan P Smith

    Asking your friends who they have used is easily the best way to source. Angie’s List and review sites will always have reviews from disgruntled people. If your friend is willing to recommend someone to you that has worked for them it is a pretty safe bet.

  • Skintinthecity

    Thanks for this. In the process of getting a contractor just now to do a loft conversion – great tips here.

  • Long Pham

    I like using Angie’s List as well. I was able to find a reputable contractor through the site that did some great work in my house. I always check all the resources outlined in the article as well.

    I’m with JEM. When we got work done on the house, I did whatever I was capable of doing myself. It reduced the contractors fees significantly. Demolition is a large part of labor costs.

    Providing your own materials for the contractor to use is also a great idea. Even if your contractor doesn’t mark up, you can save a great deal of money searching for deals that the contractor probably isn’t looking for.

  • Jacob Holmes

    The selection of the right contractor is just as important as the decision to make immediate repairs after water damage. Effective contractors act as a bridge that will make the goal of restoration possible after flooding.

  • Paul Herman


  • riley folkins

    Providing your own materials for the contractor to use is also a great idea. Even if your contractor doesn’t mark up, you can save a great deal of money searching for deals that the contractor probably isn’t looking for.