Ready To Hire a Contractor? Take These 5 Steps First

Hiring a contractor to remodel your home is a major decision.  We’re all aware of this. A contractor is going to impact your life in several significant ways once you’ve hired them. You’re going to be paying a substantial amount of money, you’ll be communicating with them on a regular basis, and they’ll be working in your home for a significant period of time.  

So, the decision of who to hire must be taken very seriously.  

Here at GreatBuildz, a free service that connects homeowners with reliable general contractors, we employ a thorough contractor screening process – here are some tips from our experience.

We’ve all heard plenty of stories about remodeling experiences gone wrong. This has become so prevalent, it’s become the stuff of legend in our society. You can literally Google ‘nightmare remodels’ and read for yourself the many terrible ways that remodels can go awry.  From contractors taking someone’s money and never showing up, to projects taking three times longer than expected, to extremely poor workmanship, the potential for issues is almost infinite.

Hiring a contractor to do work in your home can be such a difficult experience, it has the potential to create tremendous amounts of emotional and financial stress and even relationship hardships. Although we’re all aware of the potential, most people think these issues will ‘never happen to them’.  

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Most people think they are a good judge of character and will be able to tell a good contractor from a bad contractor based on their “gut feel”. Others might interview three contractors, go with the lowest price and figure that everything will fall into place.  

Meeting with three or more contractors and getting multiple estimates is a great place to start, but it should be just the beginning of the process before you hire a contractor. But, like the process of hiring a nanny or caregiver for our child, we should always take extra steps and precautions to ensure we can truly trust that contractor that just ‘feels right’ based on our gut feeling.

Before you hire a contractor, always be sure to take these five steps:

#1: Check their license online.

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This is such an easy thing to do and only takes a few minutes.  In California, you should navigate to https://www.cslb.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CheckLicenseII/CheckLicense.aspx .  Here, you can confirm the company you’re considering has an active license, check company owner names, see if they have any infractions on their license, and determine how long the company has been licensed.  If everything checks out, you move on to the next step.  

But if you find some issues or inconsistencies, you need to explore this with the contractor.  For example, if their license is only 6 months old or has some sort of infraction, that’s a clear sign that you should think twice before hiring this company.  Presumably, the contractor ‘neglected’ to tell you about this and now you must reconsider whether this is a person you can truly trust.

#2: Check online reviews.

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If you Google the company name, you may find reviews on sites such as Yelp, Houzz, etc. Be careful to ensure that the reviews you find are for the correct company, as there are many companies with the same or similar names across America, and you want to make sure you’re looking at the pertinent reviews.  

Some companies won’t have any online presence or reviews; many contractors don’t spend any time marketing online and that’s not necessarily a negative sign. For those that have reviews, make sure that good reviews greatly outnumber bad ones.  A few bad reviews, especially old ones, shouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker when you look and hire a contractor.  

Like the rest of us, contractors are only human and it’s unlikely they can please all of the people all of the time (some people are impossible to please). Read the negative reviews and determine how bad their behavior seems to you…and feel free to ask the contractor to explain their bad reviews.  A significant number of bad reviews (especially in the last 2 years) clearly indicate a pattern and you should think twice about hiring this company.

#3: Get a copy of their insurance certificate.  

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Ensure their insurance is up to date and verify that it includes Workers Compensation insurance (assuming the contractor has employees).  If you want to be extra thorough, you can call the insurance broker listed on the certificate and ask how long they’ve been doing business with the contractors and whether they have had any insurance claims. You don’t want to hire a contractor if they can’t provide this or are shady in this regard. 

#4 Call at least three references. 

It goes without saying that the contractor will give you the names of their happiest customers. For that reason and because of the time involved to make calls, many people will skip this step; but that would be a mistake.  My experience is that even the happiest customers will provide some valuable information if asked the right questions.  

Ask the references questions like, “Did the project come in on budget and on time?” and “I know you said he’s terrific, but if there was one thing you could improve about your experience, what would it be?”.  You’ll likely find that most people will share some information that is useful and influence your decision on whether to hire a contractor or not. 

Again, no contractor is perfect and it’s best to know their shortcomings upfront, so you can set realistic expectations for yourself. The references could also give you valuable tips such as the best way to communicate with the contractor or the things to look out for with his crew, etc.  

#5 Interview the owner before, not after you hire a contractor. 

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Most of us assume that the person coming to our house to give us a cost estimate for our project is the owner of the construction company, but often this is not the case. Especially with larger contractors, the person at your house is just a salesperson, probably one of several on their staff. Even if the salesperson is extremely likable and knowledgeable, it will be difficult for you to gauge the company based on this person as they won’t be involved in your project; their job is solely to make the sale. 

That’s why I suggest interviewing the owner of the company, or at the very least, the supervisor who will be your day-to-day contact during the project. Make sure that you feel comfortable speaking to this person and that you won’t feel intimidated communicating with them during the project.  Ask them a few difficult questions and see how they respond. Ask them if they feel comfortable operating under the terms you desire (something similar to our Code of Conduct: https://www.greatbuildz.com/contractor-vetting/).   


Taking these five extra steps will go a long way to ensure you’re in great hands when hiring a contractor, and even more importantly, screening out the companies that you shouldn’t hire. The staff at Greatbuildz strongly suggest doing this kind of contractor pre-screening before making a hiring decision. 

Before we invite any general contractor into the Greatbuildz network, we always conduct our own 10-point screening process; which is the most rigorous vetting process in the industry. We believe every homeowner is entitled to a positive renovation experience and shouldn’t endure the stresses of hiring a contractor that is bad.

If you’re in the middle of screening a contractor yourself, or even if you’ve just started planning a home renovation project, give GreatBuildz a call. Our helpful staff can help make sure you’re in good hands.