A Beginner's Guide To Hiring A Contractor

Aaron B. By Aaron B., 28th Mar 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/1kghyyxx/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>DIY>Building & Remodeling

Are you looking for a home improvement contractor? Then read this Do-It-Yourself guide to finding someone to do it for you! Read on to learn some tips, provided by a professional home improvement contractor, concerning the finding and hiring of a contractor, what to expect, what questions to ask, and the things you should definitely avoid.


I recently had the opportunity to conduct an e-mail interview with Ed Bruno, owner of Payless Roofing, Windows & More, a New Jersey, USA home improvement company. I realized that getting any type of home improvement work done can be a daunting concept and so I realized that the best way to find out what this process involves was to actually talk to someone in the business of making home improvements. Ed was kind enough to answer some questions that anyone unfamiliar with the home improvement process may ask. Hopefully, this interview will be able to reduce the stress that may be involved in this decision, help you to find a good price, and ensure quality work by a quality contractor.

Finding A Contractor And Getting An Estimate

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to ask you a few questions. Before we get to my questions, could you give some background information about yourself and your business? Also, how long have you been in the home improvement business?

Hi. My name is Ed Bruno. I have been in the home improvement business for 15 years. Prior to opening my own business I had many years experience in Home Improvement Sales, working for major home improvement companies. Payless, my company, does roofing, window replacement, siding, repairs, and porch enclosures.

Alright, well, let's get down to it. So, let's say I'm a home or business owner and I decide that it's time for a new roof or a roof repair or some other form of home or business improvement. This is obviously an important decision, but now I'm left wondering who to call. How would you suggest that I, or any other person, should go about choosing a contractor to call? Should I flip through a phone book or newspaper and pick the biggest, flashiest home improvement ad that I see? Should I choose based on the proximity of the contractor to my home?

Besides looking in your local newspapers, you can look for ads in telephone directories. However, I prefer to recommend that you call your Attorney General's Office & get a list of LICENSED contractors in the area. Most states mandate that a contractor have a license. If a contractor is not licensed I would use caution in hiring him. Always ask for references. I always have references and pictures of various home improvement jobs to show the customer.

I would recommend that you look for a contractor within a 75 mile proximity.

Ok, so now I've made the call and I've arranged for a contractor to come to my home or business to get an estimate. Is there anything a customer should do to prepare for the estimate? What should I expect during this process?

I would recommend that a customer hire a contractor that has liability insurance. The customer should read his policy. They should ask for his license and record the license number. Customers should have the area or specific room cleared to provide easy access. (i.e. if a customer is having work done in the attic, the customer should clear the area allowing the contractor space to properly inspect and estimate the work needed.)

Also, please remove all pets from the work site, if at all possible, or make sure they are caged or leashed.

A contractor should provide a customer with references and before and after pictures of homes in the area that he has worked on. Also, in addition to providing his license number, the contractor should provide customers with PERMIT numbers, as well.

What To Avoid

I have to assume that the majority of contractors are good, honest, hard-working people. However, just like anything in life, there will always be a few bad eggs lurking around out there. Using your expertise and experience, can you think of anything that I should be on the lookout for? In what situations should I walk away before giving a contractor a job? Also, how can I tell if the estimate I'm given is a fair one?

Avoid a contractor who will ASK THE CUSTOMER to get the permit, can't provide you with a license number, or can't provide you with their liability insurance policy information. If the price is TOO good (much lower than estimates from other contractors), then they probably aren't an experienced and qualified contractor. Also avoid a contractor that is unable to provide references from other customers. Be cautious about a contractor that drives up in a van or truck without his company logo, address or phone number on the vehicle. All paperwork given to the customer should have the company name, address, phone number and License # printed on the contract, estimate, etc.

A customer should get at least 4 estimates and compare the prices.

Signing The Contract & Scheduling

Great! So now I've decided that I'm comfortable with the contractor, that the estimate is reasonable, and I'm ready to give the contractor the job. I'm assuming it's not as simple as me saying, "Ok, you can start on Thursday at 12:00pm." or something similar, correct? What happens once I decide to give the job to the contractor? What do I need to sign? Do I need to get permits, or does the contractor handle that? Also, how does scheduling work? To clarify that last question, should I be expected to work around the contractor's schedule or should I expect the contractor to work around mine?

First make sure to get a start date and completion date written on the contract. (Of course everything is weather permitting). Make sure you carefully review the contract making any deletions or additions prior to signing the contract. Make sure all additions to the contract are written and signed by the contractor and dated.
Contractors should be responsible for obtaining a permit. (It puts the liability on the contractor). Customers should be very cautious if a contractor mandates that the customer obtain a work permit because once the customer obtains a work permit, the liability falls on the customer because the customer now assumes the role of a general contractor.

The work schedule is discussed prior to signing the contract. Sometimes a schedule compromise can be worked out. If the job is an exterior repair, a customer is not required to be home. However, if the work is interior, the contractor should have access to the interior of the home (the customer stays home, or the customer may choose to leave a house key for the contractor).


Alright, now that all of the details have been ironed out, can you explain what I, as a customer, should be doing while the contractor is working? Once the deal has been made, what are the obligations of the contractor?

The homeowner should always make sure they are getting what they paid for.

A contractor's obligation is to make sure that the job is done in a professional way, following all state and local codes and is done to the manufacturer's specifications.

Expectations And Time Frames

What should I expect once the contractor has begun working? Is there a standard amount of time that certain jobs should take? If so, can I count on the contractor finishing in that amount of time?

Weather permitting, most roofs take one to two days to complete.
Vinyl Siding takes about 2-3 days.
Usually 8-10 window replacements can be done per day.
Bathroom renovations take about 1 week. Kitchens, 2 weeks. Finished basements, one week. Exterior Decks usually take 2-3 days.

If there are no unusual circumstances a contractor should be able to complete the job on time.

Inspecting The Work

Once the contractor says that the job is complete, I know that I would personally want to check it out to make sure everything looks good and has been completed properly before I hand over a check. The problem is, I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking for. Things like a crooked or missing shingle on a roof, for example, would be obvious. Are there any less obvious things I should be on the lookout for?

Damage to the property, debris or trash left behind. Make sure the contractor removed debris from gutters and check for torn window screens or broken windows, etc. Make sure you have a labor warranty in the event the roof leaks. Vinyl siding should have a labor warranty for any defects. Usually labor warranties are good for 5-10 years.

Labor Warranties

Ok, so the job is now complete. Let's say, for example, I had a new roof put on my home. I'm satisfied with the work. I've paid the contractor, we shake hands and he leaves. Now let's say after about a week or so it rains and I notice a leak in the roof, or that a shingle has blown off during a thunderstorm. If I call the contractor to come back and fix it, can I expect to be charged again? Will the contractor come back at all, or am I just out of luck? Are there warranties or guarantees on things like a new roof, windows, siding, or paint?

A labor warranty is a very important part of a contract. Most reputable contractors would return to the home and inspect damages. For damages sustained by a storm, most of the time it is covered by a customer's homeowners insurance. The contractor would not charge the homeowner a 2nd time for a roof leak that occurs one week after the roof was replaced. It is covered by the labor warranty.

A Final Tip

Finally, do you have anything else you'd like to add? Do you have any great tips or secrets that the average person wouldn't know or think of?

If a contractor is just starting out and doesn't have references, it doesn't mean he isn't capable of doing a good job. You can ask him for his training credentials, certifications, or ask for names and numbers of various people that can give you character references on this individual (teachers, pastors, neighbors, etc.).

Well, those are all the questions I have for you, Ed. Thank you, again, for your time and for all this great information! I wish you the best and continued success!

In Review

In closing, I would like to highlight some of the important things I (and hopefully you) learned from this interview with Ed.

1). Call several contractors and get several estimates before you commit to one. Ed recommends at least four and he also recommends that you get references for each of them.

2). Before you get an estimate, make sure the area the contractor will need to inspect is clear and accessible. Also, make sure pets are kept out of the area the contractor will be working on.

3). If an estimate seems "too good to be true" or is far lower than other contractor's estimates, be wary! Don't succumb to the temptation to hire a contractor you may not fully trust just because they offer a very low estimate. Price is important, but it should not be your only consideration! Try to find out why the estimate is so low when compared to other estimates.

4). Make sure the contractor gets the necessary permits himself! Also make sure they are licensed and can provide you with their state license number and liability insurance information. Make sure the company's name, phone number, address, and license number is printed on documents that you receive from the contractor!

5). Understand that poor weather can slow down a contractor's progress on a job and that this is out of their hands.

6). After the contractor informs you that the job is complete, inspect the work and inspect your property for damage and debris!

7). Labor warranties are VERY important! Make sure you have a labor warranty in the contract before you sign it!

Finally, if I had to offer some personal advice, I would say that you should never be afraid to ask questions! Ed is an American contractor who works throughout New Jersey. The questions I asked and the answers he provided should be generally applicable no matter where you live, but always BE SURE. A good contractor won't mind taking the time to answer your questions and make you comfortable. If you're comfortable, the contractor is more likely to get the job and they know that. So ask away!


Business, Contractor, Customer, Estimate, Hiring, Home Improvement, Homeowner, How To, Improvement, Labor Warranty, Owner, Repair, Replacement, Roof, Roofing, Siding, Vinyl Siding, Windows

Meet the author

author avatar Aaron B.
I've always loved to write! I love to write about things that I have a lasting interest in, as well as things that currently interest me. I'm an avid gamer and love a good western-style RPG!

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author avatar Elissa P.
29th Mar 2010 (#)

Great article! I am no longer afraid to tackle home improvement now that I know how to find the right contractor :)

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author avatar Jeannie
29th Mar 2010 (#)

I thought this interview was VERY helpful. Being a single woman, it gives me a guideline to follow, and gives me a "heads up" on what I should be on the lookout for before and after securing a contractor. Thank You :)

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author avatar Retired
17th Nov 2010 (#)


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author avatar Sabine
26th Jul 2011 (#)

It's a good idea to consult a contractor directory before settling on one. http://constructioncoach.com

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