How do I choose a contractor?

Tips for hiring the right person for your construction project.
A general contractor takes responsibility for all aspects of completing large, complex construction jobs. Whether building a new home or renovating an existing structure, a general contractor acts as both a manager of the workforce and the main contact person for a project.

In this role, a general contractor hires the subcontractors (plumbers, drywall installers, electricians, etc.) necessary for the job and pays them. The general contractor also works with the architect, obtains the required building permits and schedules inspections.

All this makes choosing the right person an essential part of a successful construction project. So, after you find a few local general contractors that may fit the bill, make sure you follow these guidelines before you sign a contract.

  • Know what you want

    Some general contractors are generalists, while others specialize in particular types of jobs, such as modernizing older homes or building roomy ranch-style houses.

    Because general contractors handle so many different kinds of projects, it's important that you have a concrete vision of what you want.

    If the work you envision requires only one home improvement professional (for example, you just want to modernize your home's electricity) chances are you don't need a general contractor; you need the professional who specializes in your area of need. Find profiles for an array of Home Services professionls on's Home Services page

  • Get estimates from several general contractors

    The more estimates you obtain, the better. If possible, get itemized bids in which each contractor prices the materials, taxes, cost of permits and labor.

  • Check the contractor's references

    General contractors are unique in that examples of their work are readily available, especially if you want a new home built. So, make sure you talk with former clients and go to see the homes or structures that were built.

  • Confirm credentials and insurance

    Ask how long each contractor has been in business and whether they work on a full- or part-time basis. When you're evaluating contractors, always confirm that they carry three types of insurance: general liability, worker's compensation and property damage.

  • Understand the contract

    Before you sign a contract, read it carefully and make sure you understand it. Make sure it includes a specific description of the work to be done, a payment schedule, a start date and an estimated completion date.

    Ask contractors whether they are open to a payment schedule that follows the project's progress. Also, ask whether they guarantee their work.

  • Use lien-release documents

    Make sure the general contractor uses lien-release documents. If a general contractor fails to pay a subcontractor or supplier, that subcontractor or supplier can put a lien on your home — unless you have them sign a lien-release document.

  • Set reasonable expectations for the length of your project

    Choose a general contractor who can complete the job in a reasonable time period. Decide when you need your project completed (in time for the holidays or before tax season, for example). General contractors and their work crews can be booked up for years at a time, so before you choose one, ask about their availability.


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