Many of us want to do some small home improvement projects like painting a room or replacing fixtures, but we just can’t tackle it ourselves for various reasons. If we want it done we have to hire someone. But the thought of hiring a contractor is intimidating, and we don’t know where to start. For a few of my home projects – new flooring, custom mantle, painting, hanging wallpaper, and landscaping – I decided to hire contractors. I’m sharing the reasons when you might choose to hire, how to find a contractor, and what to look for in a contractor for small jobs.
(Image Source: via Pinterest, Designer unknown)
When to hire a contractor
- Time – You don’t have any of it. If you don’t have time to dedicate to a project then it’s a good idea to hire a contractor. This way you can be sure the project will actually get finished in a timely manner, and you don’t have to live in chaos while half-finished projects taunt you every time you come home.
- Tools – Most projects require specific tools and supplies. Even hanging a simple curtain rod will require a few tools that we don’t all have lying around, like a drill and level. If you don’t have any and don’t feel like investing in any it might be worth bringing someone in for the job. Side note: When we moved into our new house, I asked my husband for a cordless, electric drill for my birthday. Can you imagine? Well, it has been the best tool investment we made. We use it so often it just sits out on my desk like it’s part of my desk accessories.
- Knowledge – You have no idea where to start or what to do. There are plenty of how-tos on the Internet that could probably get you pretty far. But if you don’t have the time or interest to research and learn then doing it yourself might not be for you. See #1.
- Skill – Ok so maybe you looked up a how-to on tiling a backsplash, and it looks pretty straightforward. How confident are you in your ability to make it look good? On the first try? Mistakes in home improvement can be costly, and if you feel more comfortable having a skilled professional do the job right the first time you’re feeling is probably right.
How to find a contractor
So you’ve decided to hire someone. How do you find someone? Where do you start? Here are a few resources for getting started on your search for the right contractor.
- First and foremost, a referral from a friend, colleague, family member, or anyone you know is going to be the quickest and surest way to a successful search. Be sure it’s someone they’ve actually worked with or can vouch for their work. Ask them about their experience!
- You can find everything online now including reviews of contractors. Here are a few sites to get you started. I’m sure there are many others, but these are a few I’ve used and have been successful with.
- Yelp – Yelp isn’t just for restaurants anymore. It’s a great way to search for local contractors. One caveat is most don’t have the quantity of reviews you find for restaurants. But the written reviews are usually quite informative.
- Houzz – Better for searching for designers, builders, and renovators for larger projects. Great for inspiration!
- Porch – Has lists of contractors for every home improvement project large or small near you. Still relatively new so the reviews aren’t as extensive. But a great place to narrow down a handful of contacts that interest you and then take it a step further with your own due diligence.
I haven’t used these but they look appealing.
- Services at home decor stores like West Elm and Pottery Barn. These stores now offer installation services like window treatments and gallery walls for a flat fee.
- Task Rabbit – Have a task around the home? Choose from various people and their rates for your job. You can find handypersons, someone to assemble furniture, or mount your TV. Come on, who doesn’t want someone else to assemble your furniture?
3. In a store – that sells items you’re project is related to.
Walk into a lighting store and ask if they know anyone who can install light fixtures. Or walk into a kitchen and bath store when you’re shopping for cabinets or tile and ask for installer referrals. Or walk into a paint store and ask for painter referrals. While you’re in the paint store, ask if they know anyone that does drywall, or wallpaper, two separate but related types of projects.
In many ways, the home improvement business is highly based on word-of-mouth and referrals. Contractors working on a job may likely be working with other types of contractors on the same job and will be able to pass on their contact info to you.
Of course no matter how you find your contractor, you will have to do your own vetting and that leads me to the next topic.
(Image source: via Decozilla, Designer unknown)
What to look for in a contractor
These considerations are for small jobs but many also apply to large projects. Your level of due diligence for builders and contractors for renovations and new builds should be even higher. Here’s what to look for and some of the questions you should be asking.
- License or no license – Having a contractor’s license is the ideal scenario. That means the person has passed exams on their field of expertise, is insured, and will know the required regulations. But the reality is there are also many contractors and handy-persons that are not licensed and do good work. Is it okay to hire them? I think it depends on the job. My general rule is that if it has anything to do with plumbing or electrical then the person should be licensed. These are two areas that if issues arise they could be major. Almost everything else is up in the air. I think of it this way. What is the worst that can happen? If the wallpaper is installed crooked or starts to peel is my house going to fall apart? If the paint job isn’t perfect, what happens? Mistakes in these areas are certainly nuisances, but at least your bathroom won’t be flooded. That said, if there is anything to do with water take extra precautions. For example, if you want to tile your shower and the person does not know how to properly waterproof the area that could end up being a disaster later down the road.
- Experience – Licensed or not, experience is key. How long have they been doing this? What types of jobs have the done? Big or small? How complex is your job and do they have experience with a similar job? For projects that are more complex or higher investment it’s ok to ask for examples of their work. Do they have pictures they can show you?
- Reviews – Did they come recommended? Did someone you trust refer them to you, and they had a good experience? Don’t forget to ask about their experience! Is this contractor reviewed online? You can also ask the contractor for references.
- Behavior and Communication – Does the contractor seem professional? Are they neat or sloppy? Do they respond in a timely manner? Are you able to communicate with them? Did they answer all your questions without hesitation? Do they understand what you want out of the project?
- Quotes – Did they provide you a quote when asked? Did you get multiple quotes for comparison? Is their quote too low compared to others? That could be a red flag. The lowest price is often not the best choice when it comes to skilled labor. As an example, in the interior design world the more experience you have and the more successful you are as a designer the more you can and should charge. I think 2-3 quotes is usually sufficient. Any more than that and it becomes overwhelming or you’re just basing your decision on price. Good contractors put time into their quotes so you don’t want to waste their time or yours. Did they come to look at your project before giving you a quote? Depending on the type and complexity of the project it is difficult to provide a good quote without seeing the space. Good contractors that want to provide as accurate a quote as possible so there are no surprises will request to see your space.
- All the credentials and experience are great. But in the end, use your gut feeling. Do you like the person? Does he/she seem trustworthy? Would you want them working in your house for many hours?
For more on my wallpaper installation experience check out this post.
For more on why I hired a painter for my master bathroom check out this post.