A home undergoing renovations

Gearing up for a home improvement project? One of the most important decisions you have to make is about which general contractor you’ll hire to do the job. It can be a thorny process, especially if you’ve never had to hire someone before. Follow these helpful tips to find the right person who’ll get the job done right and on time.

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Talk to friends

Get recommendations from friends, family, and neighbors, and consult a professional organization like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. You’ll soon have a hefty list of contractors in your area.

Phone interviews

The next step is to interview the contractors on your list to find out things like their availability, names of previous clients, and what kind of work they typically do. These calls will give you information about the contractors’ productivity and reliability, allowing you to narrow down your list to about three or four.

Face-to-face meetings

Schedule some time to meet with the remaining contractors to discuss the specifics of your project and get estimates. This is a good time to assess their personalities and determine if this is someone with whom you feel comfortable communicating and welcoming into your house for extended periods of time.


Now is the time to call lists of former clients and find out things like how their project went, whether the job site was kept neat and safe, and how courteous and careful the contractors were with the property. Don’t be afraid to flat-out ask, “Would you hire this person again?”

Compare bids

Have all of the contractors on your short list submit their bids to you. Be sure that they’ve broken down their expenses into categories, like cost of materials, labor, and other expenses. In general, you can expect materials to account for about 40 percent of the costs, and about 15 to 20 percent to account for the contractor’s profit margin.

Discuss a payment schedule

If a contractor requests a large amount of money up front, this should be a red flag and you should consider choosing someone else. A typical payment plan would require a deposit of about 10 percent when the contract is signed, three payments of about 25 percent over the course of the project, and then the final 15 percent when the project is completed to your satisfaction.

Draw up a contract

Put it all in writing, everything from the payment schedule to proof of all legal credentials, anticipated start and completion dates, and specific materials to be used.