We hear all the time how hard it is to find and select a good contractor. So we have some tips for you:
1. First, identify what kind of contractor you need: Is it a big project that requires multiple trades (like an addition)? Then you probably need a general contractor. Is it a more specific project that only requires one or two trades? Then you probably want a contractor who specializes in your specific type of work. When in doubt, we recommend finding a specialist rather than a general contractor.
2. Use multiple sources to find a few contractors: Ask neighbors, do a google search, ask for a reference at a local hardware or paint store, use a consumer website.
3. ALWAYS GET AT LEAST 3 ESTIMATES! Unless you are re-hiring a contractor you've had a good experience with, then you should get at least 3 estimates. If you don't get that 'warm fuzzy' feeling, there is nothing wrong with getting 4 or 5. Just because someone did a good job for your neighbor or friend, doesn't mean they will do a good job for you! Get more than one bid.
4. You should always check the license and insurance of any company before you hire them. This might be the most important aspect of hiring a contractor.
Maryland, Virginia, and DC require any person or company doing any level of home improvement to have a license. Even 'handymen' are required to carry a license. Hiring a handyman or company without a license can leave you with an invalid contract and open to liability and a world of problems. Even 'small projects' require a license. Working without a license can be punishable by fines and jail time. Also, those companies working without the proper licenses are not only breaking the law, they are undermining companies who are playing by the rules!
Don't just take someone's word for it. Ask to see the license and insurance certificate. Maryland, Virginia, and DC have websites where you can check the status of a license. So often we hear horror stories from customers who didn't check a license or insurance and ended up with no recourse when problems occurred. All it would have taken was 3 clicks to a website!
5. Call references! Ask for 3-5 references for the exact type of work you are having estimated. Also, ask for an older reference and a more recent one. Ask for a reference near your home. don't be afraid to call the references and check up on the company you are thinking of hiring. Ask about not only what went right and what went wrong. Also, do a quick google search of that company. See what other customers have to say.
6. Never pay more than 30% down on a contract. In some states (Maryland for one) it is illegal to ask for more than 30% as a deposit. Unless the company needs to order a specific material or product, be very suspicious of any company who asks for more than 30% up front.
7. Remember what your Mom told you: If it is too good to be true, then it probably is! If a contractor tells you something that sounds too good, then do your research, because it probably is too good to be true.
There are so many really great contractors out there. Unfortunately, there are a few 'bad apples' that ruin the reputations of all other contractors. Do your research and find the right company.