Even as a contractor myself, I can’t deny that one of the most difficult things a homeowner will have to do is hire a good contractor. Learning how to find the right contractor is more of an art than a science. When you tack on the added speciality of needing a contractor who understands historic homes, it may feel as if you are looking for a unicorn.
Trust me when I say that there are quality contractors out there who would love to work with you. You just have to find them, and that’s what I’ll help you with today. Some of it is knowing where to look and some of it involves doing your due diligence to find the right contractor for you.
1. Looking in All the Wrong Places
If you are looking for more than a “Chuck in a Truck” contractor, then there are a few places you should avoid like the plague. It’s not to say that you won’t find a good contractor here, but the chances are better you’ll find mostly bottom feeders and cheats. Hire contractors from these places at your own risk
- Handwritten yard signs
- Bulletin board flyer tear offs
2. Ask Neighbors & Friends
The best referrals you’ll ever get are from your friends. Ask neighbors and Facebook friends who they like and have had good experiences with. You’ll probably get a few good names to start the search with. At the very least, you’ll get some names of contractors to avoid and that can be just as useful. Your friends have nothing to gain by setting you up with a bad contractor, so you can trust what they say as unbiased.
3. Where Else to Look
Did you know there is a resource here on the blog to help you find the right contractor called The Craftsman Directory. It is filled with hundreds of contractors from all over the country with all kinds of different specialties like window restoration, plaster, masonry, woodworking, etc. Almost every state is represented in my directory, so chances are there is someone near you.
We are constantly adding the list, so if you have a local craftsman you think should be included, email us and we’ll check them out and add them to the list. I’ve given each of these contractors an initial looking over to make sure the work they do is consistent with historic preservation, but I don’t know ALL of them personally, so you’ll still need to do your due diligence.
- Window Preservation Alliance -Another great directory to use is at the WPA where companies and individuals who are members dedicated to restoring old windows are listed.
- NextDoor – This great new app connects you with neighbors and is a great way to crowdsource finding a good contractor. If you haven’t signed up yet, you are missing out on all the local news about the goings on in your neighborhood.
4. Meet Them in Person
Once you have a few names of potential contractors, you’ll want to narrow the field by meeting with them in person. A preliminary phone call is always good to start the ball rolling, but without meeting face to face, you are at a serious disadvantage. Working with a contractor is very much like starting a relationship. You want to feel comfortable with both their personality and their knowledge of their trade.
Trust your gut on this one. I could give you a list of things that might be red flags or might be advantages, but ultimately, this is a personal decision and you need to trust your gut because it will almost always be right in this scenario.
5. Check Licensing & Insurance
Are they properly licensed by your state or city? Do they need to be? Find out what your area requires and make sure your contractor has the proper licensing. Most licensing is honestly pointless, but I use this as a gauge of whether the contractor cares about following the rules. If they flaunt the local licensing authorities, then what corners will they cut on your project? If their licensing is on the up and up, then that’s a good sign the rest of their work will follow suit.
Insurance is immensely important to protect you during a renovation, and making sure they are insured is as easy asking them to provide a Certificate of Insurance (COI). It usually takes a couple days, but when you ask them to provide it, they should comply. If they start sweating, it may be a bad sign they aren’t insured.
6. Get Multiple Bids
You should always get multiple bids for your project so that you have something to compare. One contractor may mention a different material than another that you didn’t know was a better choice. Information is power, so more bids is more power in your hands. Also, be sure to tell them you are getting multiple bids so that they will really sharpen the pencil on your project. You’ll get a better price that way.
Once you have all the bids in, throw the lowest one in the trash. If you get 3 bids that are $8,000 $12,000 and $13,000 you can assume that the lowest bidder is the kind of contractor that either cuts corners or is desperate for work. If the price sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Bonus Read: Avoid the Tyranny of the Low Bidder
However, if all the prices are within a couple hundred dollars of each other, then you’re probably ok. You just don’t want the lowball contractor on your project. Benjamin Franklin said it best, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
7. Get it in Writing
If it wasn’t written down, it never happened. Working with a contractor without a written contract is asking for trouble. You want a specific contract that outlines exactly what is included and what is not included and how much it will cost. You may understand what you want, but the contract is there to protect both you and the contractor in case of disagreement. Make sure the wording will make sense to an outsider like a lawyer. Change orders should also be in writing as well to avoid miscommunications.
Look in the right places and do your due diligence and you will come out on top in the search to find the right contractor. Once you find a company you like and trust, stick with them and share their name around with your friends so you can help not only your friends, but that great contractor to keep busy with great clients.
Founder & Senior Editor
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.