7 Tips for Hiring the Best Contractor

  • A good contractor is hard to find

    The hardest part of a home renovation might be finding the right contractor.

    Often getting the best one for your home -- the true pro who shows up and delivers quality work on time and on budget -- depends on doing some serious screening before the job starts, says Mike Holmes, professional contractor and host of HGTV's "Holmes on Homes."

    And that could be one area where a lot of homeowners fall short. "I don't think people try half as hard as they should," he says.

    Too many times, he says, enthusiastic homeowners hire the first person they interview. "They get so excited that they made the commitment (to do the renovation or upgrade), that they forget the job they have in front of them," he says.

    "One thing I've learned: It will take you longer to find the right contractor and check out the job, than to do the job," he says.

    To make it a little easier, here are seven pro tips for getting the right contractor for your next home addition, upgrade or renovation.

  • Slow down

    "Take your time," Holmes says. "Do not be in a hurry."

    You're not ordering a cup of coffee to go, he says. This is a home alteration that you're going to live with every day.

    The best thing to do before you start interviewing contractors is educate yourself on the project, he advises. The more you know, the more able you'll be to ask savvy questions and make smart decisions concerning the project. "Do you want to run (category)-five or (category)-six (cables)? How far do you think you need to go? Do you need to gut your kitchen?" he says.

    You can also make a wish list: What are the things you'd like to do in conjunction with this project?

    One wise move is to call your local government and find out what kind of permits you're likely to need, Holmes says.

  • Talk to friends and neighbors

    Referrals are a primary source for finding a good contractor, says Paul DiMeo, designer and co-star of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." "You want to make sure that, whoever you're using, that you have a personal referral," he says. "That's why it's best to talk to a friend."

    Then follow up with your own due diligence, says Holmes. Good referrals alone are "not enough," he says. "Just because a friend liked the contractor, doesn't mean the job was done right. But that's a good starting point."

    Another promising sign is when two sources recommend the same pro. When Norm Abram, the master carpenter of "This Old House," needed someone to retrofit a home with air conditioning, he asked one of the show's contractors for a recommendation. The same name was mentioned again by a local pro Abram respected.

    "I went ahead and ended up hiring him, and he did a great job," Abram says.

    Do your part on the other end of the referral process, too. When you do find someone great, "tell everyone," says Holmes.

  • Determine the contractor's specialty

    "Sometimes people assume all contractors are equally qualified to work on different types of houses," Abram says. Interview contractors who do the type of work you need. For instance, if you want a renovation, you want a renovator, rather than a new-home builder, he says.

    Look for someone who focuses on homes that are the same age and style as yours, Abram says. While a contractor may have more than one specialty, you want to make sure that your type of home is one of the contractor's strong suits.

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