Five Tips for Finding the Right Residential Contractor

December 1, 2016

Residential construction projects come in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of the size of a project, finding the right contractor is critical. The wrong hire opens the door for problems before, during, and after the project is complete. While no plan is fool proof, the following five tips will go a long way to help homeowners hire the right contractor for the job.

1. Always Make Sure the Contractor is Licensed.
In Minnesota, starting with a licensed residential home builder might be the simplest “insurance” for any residential project. By using a licensed contractor, a homeowner is assured that the contractor is knowledgeable about their trade and other legal and insurance requirements for the work. Perhaps more importantly, work done by licensed contractors may be protected by the Builders’ Recovery Fund in the event that your contractor can’t or won’t stand behind their work.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry make it easy to determine when a contractor is licensed. Using this online tool, anyone with internet access can look up a contractor’s license, certificate, and registration detail. If a search for a license comes up empty, it’s best to move on to the next potential candidate.

2. Press for Details on Payment Terms.
Price point is important, especially considering how expensive construction projects can be. If a bid comes in at a too-good-to-be-true price, it may be because it is. Press the contractor on all the details that went into the bid (materials, labor, allowances, etc.). From there, be sure to ask who to contact with payment questions. Also, inquire about a payment schedule. If a large number is due up front, be sure to receive a satisfactory explanation as to why that is. Too many homeowners have seen large initial “down payments” disappear with the contractor, who never performs any work – don’t become one of these statistics!

3. Inquire About the Company’s History.
A good measure of a steady company is one that has been in business under the same name for a significant amount of time. Company name changes can be for convenience, but it could also mean a previous moniker had a bad reputation, poor reviews, or legal troubles. If a company has changed its name, don’t be afraid to ask why. Make note of what the name used to be and research accordingly.

4. Understand the Contractor’s Responsibilities Throughout the Project.
A residential construction project has many moving parts. It’s a general contractor’s job to ensure each part of the project is being properly constructed and accounted for. The general contractor has a role in each phase of the contract, including pulling permits, understanding county or city codes, working with subcontractors, and actually swinging a hammer. A contractor with a good understanding of the industry and its demands should be able to discuss each step in significant detail.

5. Use Your Resources.
Sometimes the best way to learn about a contractor’s reputation is online. Look up the contractor at the Better Business Bureau website, on Facebook, or other online resources that provide customer testimonials. Your favorite search engine can be a good place to start, but you also should search the Department of Labor and Industry’s website for any enforcement action against the contractor.

Due diligence in finding a contractor will go a long way in ensuring a satisfactory project. Homeowners should have answers to all their questions before signing a contract. Keep in mind that there are many contractors willing to do the work so feel free to be picky. A residential remodeling project is a large financial commitment; homeowners should use all the resources necessary to feel comfortable with the contractor they hire.