How to Find a Good Contractor

Whether you need a contractor to retile a bathroom in a rental or to gut renovate a flip, you need a good licensed contractor to get the most out of your real estate investment.

Before you jump into choosing a contractor, take a minute to consider what qualities you need most in a contractor. No matter what, you’ll want a contractor to be licensed, experienced, trustworthy, a creative problem-solver, and a keen manager of both time and budget. You may also have your own list of qualities you want in a contractor. Write them down and then start searching.

Gather contractor recommendations

While you’ll want to ultimately hire a contractor based on whether or not they are a good fit for your renovation project, start by getting recommendations from people you know.

  • Ask trusted friends, neighbors, relatives, coworkers, or even your real estate agent for contractor recommendations. If you can, dive a little deeper into what your connection likes about the contractor. Timeliness? Careful work? Smart solutions to problems? If possible, take a look at the work yourself.
  • Go beyond your own network and read reviews on sites including Yelp, Google, and NextDoor. Remember that anyone can write a review, so look for patterns (good or bad) over multiple reviews. If you find an especially concerning or glowing review, click through the reviewer’s profile to evaluate trustworthiness. If they routinely trash businesses or if they’ve logged a single review, you may want to discount their opinion.
  • Search renovation specific forums — including HomeAdvisor, Houzz, Angie’s List, and Porch — to find local contractors with expertise in the area you’re seeking. Cross-reference with the Better Business Bureau.

Once you’ve gone through this process, you should have a list of reputable contractors in your area to investigate further.

Research potential contractors online and via phone

Beyond getting recommendations, take a closer look at the contractors themselves. You may want to start your research online by checking contractors’ websites. If you like what you find there, schedule a phone call and speak directly with the contractor. Here are some of the questions to ask.

  • Is the contractor licensed?
  • Is the contractor properly insured?
  • Will the contractor pull the required permits?
  • Is the contractor part of any professional groups or organizations?
  • How long has the contractor been in business?
  • Does the contractor have a physical location?
  • What kind of contract does the contractor provide?
  • What’s the typical payment schedule like?
  • Does the contractor provide references upon request? (If so, get them. If not, be wary.)
  • How long does it take for the contractor to finish the typical project?
  • How many jobs does the contractor typically handle at any one time?
  • Does the contractor use subcontractors? Who are they? And can you talk to some of them?
  • Does the contractor have openings in their schedule that match your renovation needs?
  • Does the contractor frequently do renovation work that resembles what you need?
  • Who would your point of contact be on a project? How will everyone be communicating?
  • What happens if something goes wrong? (i.e., over budget, over time, or you’re simply not satisfied with the quality of the work)
  • Can you visit a current worksite to see the contractor and team in action?

Once you’ve done this initial research stage, both by browsing company websites and by calling up the contractors to get some of your questions answered, move on to the in-person meeting with at least three contractors that you think best meet your needs.

Make a good match

Just because you’ve found a good contractor doesn’t mean you’ve found the right one for you and your renovation or flip project. That’s where the in-person meeting comes into play. Talk directly with your potential contractor, walk them through the space, and show them what you want. Make notes, discuss requirements, and exchange drawings. Be sure that each contractor you speak with gets the same information. Once you have your bids in hand, look at the price, of course, but also make sure your contractor has the skills you need and can meet your timeframe.

  • Experience. Does the contractor specialize in the type of renovation you need? And does that experience come through in the in-person meeting and in the bid?
  • Creativity. If your project presents some more complex problems, does your contractor think outside of the box and illustrate that creative thinking in the bid?
  • Communication. Does the bid reflect the needs you communicated? Has the contractor been quick to communicate with you?
  • Timing. Especially with a flip, if your preferred contractor can’t work in your timeline, you may need to move on to someone else.
  • Price. Having multiple bids helps you get a sense of pricing. Don’t be afraid to follow up with contractors and get deeper into the whys. Price doesn’t always tell the whole story. Keep in mind you may be able to cut costs by buying items like appliances and fixtures yourself and shopping around.

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Erin B

Erin Behan is a writer and editor covering real estate investor strategy for Sundae. She's lived in L.A., New York, and Atlanta and currently resides in Portland, Oregon, where she writes and edits for a number of outlets, including WebMD, Farmers Insurance, and Vox Creative. She spends her free time hiking with her two boys, snuggling with her cat, and enjoying the best of the Pacific Northwest.