The Do’s and Don’ts of Hiring a Contractor

Picture of Dawn Matze, the Woman Builder

Dawn Matze, the Woman Builder

Dream. Build. Love.

In the world of construction and remodeling it can get wild and crazy at times.  Follow these simple guidelines to get control and stay successful with your remodel.

What You Must Do:


You must look up their license online and see if it’s current.

Many people skip this all-important first step. When you deal with unlicensed contractors, yes perhaps you pay an undercut price for the work but you’ll be so sorry here.  

It’s a very simple thing to go online in your state and look your potential contractor up. Google the State Contractors’ Board of your state, and put in the name and see if they indeed are the owners, and if they are current in their status. This is simple to do and can save you thousands of dollars and a boatload of time. 

There are large and small companies. It’s nice to know when a guy shows up what the relationship is between him and the company – is he the owner? Here’s why: so many guys in construction use their buddy’s contractor’s license and/or insurance. Or the guy who shows up may not be the one doing the work. Does he do the work, or does he have people who do the work? Often you will find a large company that is represented by the person you met. Understand the relationship and if they are a reputable company. 

I know this is so rudimentary, but many people just don’t do it. After all, they feel lucky enough just to get the dude to show up at their project. I get it!


Read reviews and talk with referrals.

Reading reviews is very helpful. Again this feels obvious but skipped over. Look at the majority of overarching reviews. There are usually a few negative Nancys in anyone’s career if they have been in business a long time. 

Read at least 6-8 reviews to get a feel for the contractor’s weaknesses and strengths. Are there some of the same comments? The same strong points? What are the unhappy people saying? Is it because they may have had a different set of expectations for their project and the contractor didn’t set those expectations correctly? 

For instance, an expectation I like to set is that I may not be at their jobsite every day, especially if it’s a smaller remodel. That doesn’t mean I’m not working on their project. I may be waiting on a subcontractor’s schedule. I may be waiting for materials to come in without which I can’t move forward. This is still part of the overall time frame that I am managing. Good contractors will communicate this.


Interview them in person.

In this online world don’t forget the human face-to-face meeting. After all, they will be in your home or investment and you must make sure that they are who they say they are. 

Always verify the physical person with the virtual.  Think of this part as fun!  This takes time, but it’s important time spent. 

When you set the appointment and meet your prospective contractor, do they show up on time? 

Do they wear clean clothes? (If not that’s not always bad because some owners are also doing the work.) Do they look neat and mostly clean?  

Do they look you in the eye? 

Do they have a truck that isn’t backfiring as they pull into your drive? Or do they politely park on the street, so as not to drip oil in your driveway? 

Maybe they drive a brand new Mercedes SUV? (My thought here is, maybe they overcharge.) 

Do they shake your hand? (Maybe not during coronavirus) 

Do they treat you (ladies) with respect? As a general contractor I couldn’t believe how many homeowners expected me to be a male, instead of a female contractor, and asked where my husband was. Hysterical!

When you micromanage, you are effectively saying, “I don’t trust that you will do what you say, so I’ll be watching your every stinkin’ move”.


See some of their work if possible.

Here’s a key component of a successful project – what does their work actually look like?  (Keep in mind that a contractor has to make sure the owner is happy, and the owner’s personal taste isn’t always yours.) 

Does the work show precision and detail? Or does it appear sloppy? Look over the small things.

Then examine the larger scope of the work. In a kitchen remodel do the cabinets line up properly? Do the doors appear level? Is the painting blotchy or mismatched? Is there molding at the ceiling? Are the light valances caulked and nail holes filled? Is there ample space between appliances or is the refrigerator and stove next to each other? This will tell you about the quality of the contractor’s work.


You must like them.

Did you ever meet someone with all the qualifications and expertise but you just don’t feel the love? Me too. I doubt myself here a lot, thinking that maybe I missed something, or maybe I’m not reading him/her correctly.  That’s your gut telling you that this contractor isn’t for you.

Sometimes someone can have all of the qualifications but not be ‘the one’. It could be a subtle thing like they acted defensive when you asked them for referrals, or seemed to not give a rat’s ass about your additional ideas about the project. These are intuitive gut responses and I’ve learned to trust them.  

Since construction is synonymous with decisions coming at you constantly as a homeowner, you’ve got to like the guy or gal you’re working with. 

Do they take everything personally when there is a problem? Are they eager to take responsibility or belligerent and blaming?  

I like to play a little trick on my potential homeowners (likability works both ways) to see if they are very good at handling any issues that may come up. That way I can see how they will react under pressure. I don’t do this to be mean, but to gather information on how to problem solve in such a way that they will be able to handle any disappointments. Is this contractor someone you could have a beer with or cup of joe? That’s one of the final deal breakers in my book.

What You Must Not Do:


Don’t start out with a chip on your shoulder.

Make sure you don’t start a project with a chip on your shoulder about all contractors.

Be open to this new adventure. You may be surprised at how much fun you’ll have. 

Just like any business there are good eggs and bad. Some bad eggs spoil the whole carton. Unfortunately, you mostly hear about the guys who ripped off an owner and skipped town.  Use your common sense and follow your personal rules for yourself and your family.  

There are mostly very hard-working contractors out there. They ultimately want to make you happy and have a raving fan for life. 

You would be surprised at how sensitive and courteous contractors really are.  Most of them are hardworking and love their families just like you. They have feelings and emotions and want to earn your approval with their work.


Avoid hiring them just because they’re cute.

Resist the temptation to hire a contractor because they are handsome, tell you what you want to hear, and are great to imagine looking at every day. 

I know ladies, I’m out there every day and yes it’s very tempting but avoid making a decision solely based on that! Believe me I’ve done it.


Never pay in advance.

I’ve mentioned this in other blog posts but I will say this again:  advance payment is one of the biggest mistakes a homeowner can make.

As work progresses you write the contractor a check. NEVER write the check before the work is completed. It’s such a crime when an owner thinks they are being kind and doing the contractor a favor by paying early.

This is never okay because we as humans just do better with a little incentive. It feels better to the contractor as well. A job well done is when all parts of the team are extremely satisfied and you as the homeowner want to tell your best friends about their services.


Never hire on a handshake or verbal.

Please get a written, legal estimate and contract with your builder. It should have their license number and physical address on it, as well as the date and estimate for the project. 

I like it when there is a clear scope of work and they itemize a bit on the contract.  I’m not saying to always ask for a breakdown of materials and labor here, which is a whole other discussion, but just the broad questions.

Ask questions like:  What tradesman will follow your work after you’re done? Do I need a permit for your work? How long do you guarantee your work? What is the quality of materials that you need to complete your job? What’s your timeline? When will you be able to start? Are you the person who does the work, or does someone else?

Often the bid or estimate can become the contract when both parties sign and date.  It doesn’t have to be separate.  

The clearer the detail and communication about what the contractor will do, the better. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if they may appear dumb.  They don’t know what you don’t know.  Clarity here helps everyone.

 If there is no contract and you agree to them just getting started next week, you have no way to go after them, find them or even clarify the work to be done.


Don’t micromanage.

Micromanaging is a sure way to discourage a person and rob them of any excitement they had for your project. Micromanagement takes their energy and passion and steals it away. It robs their dignity too. 

When you micromanage, you are effectively saying, “I don’t trust that you will do what you say, so I’ll be watching your every stinkin’ move”.

 As a general contractor I struggle with this one. I watch my team like a hawk. I want my homeowners to be 100% thrilled when finished. I want to eliminate any surprises or mis-steps. 

On the other hand, as the contractor and woman leader in charge, I don’t want to be micromanaged by the homeowner. (Kind of hypocritical but true) I tell people that if they want to watch me and my team then I’ll have to charge them more money. This usually puts an end to the over-managing.

I suggest for homeowners to visit the jobsite every other day or third day. If you struggle with this, as I do, then ask your contractor what you should expect to get done, in the next three days for instance. Then give them the space to do their job and hopefully surprise you. 

 You just may be tickled with the fact that they can execute without your constant oversight. Hello Helicopter moms!  

Give them space to do what they need to do and you can have the same, instead of dreading another project to micromanage. You will both be left with integrity.  I don’t know about you but that feels extra fantastic as a contractor.

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