5 Things You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor

by Alli

Having my bathrooms gutted and renovated was the first major remodeling project I’ve tackled.  Most of my renovations have included DIY painting, replacing a light or something relatively simple. Boy, if I could turn back time . . . So that you won’t make the same mistakes I did, here are 5 Things You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor (even if it’s just a renovation and not a new build).

It was my husband’s idea to hire the particular contractor that did the work on our bathrooms.  Yes, I’m throwing him under the bus! He was a relative of a friend (first mistake) and had been in the business for years.  Little did we know that his license had expired and that he had suffered major health problems.  This would have been helpful info, but I blame no one but my husband . .  . I mean . . . my husband and me.

I learned these 5 things the hard way! You don't have to. 5 Things You Should Know Before Hiring A Contractor

5 Things You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor

1. Make sure he/she is licensed.

You can find out here!  In the state of SC, a contractor that has an expired license can only do $200 worth of work.  This info would have been helpful.  Too bad I found out afterward.

2.  Don’t assume anything. Get it all in writing!

I was handed an estimate written on a sheet of paper that had been torn out of a notebook.  It had “between $K and $K.”  The contractor then said, “Maybe a little more or a little less.”  Later, when he tried to charge me more than DOUBLE, I referred back to the little more part. Be absolutely sure that your little and his little means the same thing.

A contract should include start and completion dates, information on applicable building permits and fees. The contract should exclude you from liability in the event that the contractor fails to pay subcontractors. (Yes, that happened to us, too!)

My 2-week completion date turned into 8 weeks before we parted ways.

3.  Find out who the subcontractors will be.

The subs did horrible work (except for the tile guy).  The sheetrock guys were the worse I’ve ever seen. The plumber didn’t line up the shower head with the other fixtures.  (Breathe, Alli, Breathe)  The electrician didn’t place the above-the-mirror light fixture flush with the wall.  I could run my entire hand between the base of the light and the wall.  I had to show them how to fix it!!

Find out how much your contractor is going to make off of each sub.  For instance, our tile guy was paid $1,750 to tile two small bathrooms.  We were charged $2,200 by the contractor.  Our contractor made $450.00 for nothing. I know this is common practice, but I think it stinks.

4.  Do a Background Check! 

Even (especially) if a friend has given the contractor a glowing recommendation, do a background check. Make sure that the contractor has a current state license and adequate insurance coverage.

5.  Speak up!  If you don’t like the way something looks, tell the contractor.

Not only was I robbed (you can read about it here) by one of the contractor’s crew members, I feel like I was robbed by the contractor because of the shoddy work.  When I’m paying someone to do a job, I want it done right.  I don’t want to (very nicely) show the contractor that you can see the sheetrock nails and tape on one section of the “finished” painted bathroom wall and be told, “well, you know this is going to put us behind.”  I don’t want to point out that the ceiling needs another coat of paint because you can see that someone forgot to add a second coat when they were cutting in. Do it right the first time and problem solved!

Eventually, we had to part ways with the contractor with one finished bathroom (if you can call it that – my son-in-law is redoing much of the finish work) and 1/4 of the master bathroom that we had paid out the first $4,000 towards.  We purchased the new tubs, toilets, vanities, tile, grout, etc. ourselves, so basically we were paying for labor, sheetrock (not expensive), mud and nails.

This has been an experience I never want to repeat.  The next major work I have done on my house will require a legal contract upfront and I’ll know all the ends and outs.

I’m just going to chalk this one up to “you live and learn” and move on. At least I’ll never make the same mistakes again.

Hiring a Contractor - 5 Things You Should Know

Have you ever had a renovation go terribly wrong?  I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.


Robin Masshole Mommy May 2, 2016 - 6:17 am

We got burned once, so this is a really important list of things to do. Everyone needs to make sure they do all of these things!

Angelic Sinova May 2, 2016 - 6:26 am

Great list! Speaking up is so important when it comes to get your house redone. You’re paying for it, so why not make sure everything is exactly how you want it to be <3

Shirley Wood May 2, 2016 - 8:19 am

Alli, I have been blessed. After being in other people’s homes for so many years in our cleaning business, I saw first hand those experiences. I once saw a contractor take advantage of an older single woman which was shameless. She was having her master bath remodeled and he did shoddy work.
When we hired the crew to replace the flooring in our entire house, we went with the sub-contractor who worked for the flooring store. If anything went wrong, the store had it all guaranteed.
I’m so sorry you have had to deal with so much stress, especially during the happy time of planning your daughter’s wedding! I’d need to me medicated. And I’m also glad you shared all these tips to save someone else the trouble!

Alli May 4, 2016 - 7:27 am

I didn’t even add “the rest of the story.” After he walked out on the job after trying to add $7,000 (for nothing extra) to the quoted price and leaving the master bath 1/4 done, he tried to sue us for the $7,000 that he pulled out of the air. We finally went to civil court this past Wednesday and I had all the evidence of a shoddy/half-done job and he had none. After the judge gave him a harsh taking to, he ruled in our favor. I’m just so glad this horrible experience is over. PS – I think I should have been a lawyer. 🙂

Terri Beavers May 2, 2016 - 8:23 am

I got taken by a contractor once and never did resolve anything after years of trying. I also chalked it up to a live and learn experience. Next time I’ll follow your list to a t.

Zan May 2, 2016 - 8:37 am

Wow! How terrible! I am so sorry that you got such a bad contractor and bad job. We recently had someone come out and did a few things for us and we, too, had to point out areas that needed re-done. He is not a contractor but he was willing to redo his mistakes.
The point is, if you hire someone to do the job, then they should do it correctly. After all, that is why you hired them in the first place. Not having an active license is deceitful and how awful that they robbed you in multiple ways! I always say that God is in control and will do justice where justice is due!!

Jeanine May 2, 2016 - 9:13 am

Really great tips! I’ve heard such horror stories! I wouldn’t ever know where to begin if/when we’d need a contractor so this is very helpful!

Jenn @ EngineerMommy May 2, 2016 - 9:33 am

I’ve heard so many horror stories about hiring contractors that didn’t complete a job! Maybe that’s why my husband and I try to DIY everything we can lol! I think trying to get recommendations from friends or neighbors is a great idea!

Alyssa C May 2, 2016 - 10:14 am

These are great tips! Thankfully I have contractors in the family and can totally trust them! Though I have been burned before, worst feeling EVER!

Sarah May 2, 2016 - 10:40 am

These are all great tips to think about before hiring a contractor, so many have had bad experiences when hiring a contractor. I have read many horror stories.

Maureen May 2, 2016 - 10:42 am

I am loving the idea of doing a background check, also knowing who the sub contractors are. Sometimes you hire a company only to find out they have hired out other propel to complete the job. It is rather unsettling.

Tori Gabriel May 2, 2016 - 3:41 pm

Woah. It sounds like you have had a nightmare of a time. Great tips so others can avoid what you’ve been through. I hope it’s all fixed now.

Liz Mays May 2, 2016 - 4:08 pm

I like these ideas. You definitely have to do some prep before hiring a contractor. I always try to do some research.

Brittany May 2, 2016 - 9:10 pm

These are all really great tips! I’ve never had to hire a contractor but this is good to keep in the back of my mind.

Kita May 2, 2016 - 10:10 pm

I have had such a hard time finding a contractor during my move. Good ones are hard to come by and you are so right about getting things in writing especially the cost.

Bella May 2, 2016 - 10:14 pm

Ah these are all so important! I have learned the hard way how much can go wrong when you don’t ask the right questions.

Jaclyn Anne May 3, 2016 - 10:39 am

Thank you for the tips! I would love to get our bathrooms redone but am so nervous about finding the right people for the job. These tips will help!

Dawn McAlexander May 3, 2016 - 1:25 pm

I am sure you were really upset with the contractor. My house needs a new roof, but I am really scared of who I get to do it. I don’t want a situation like the one you had.

Bonnie @wemake7 May 3, 2016 - 9:06 pm

These are really great tips. I am always scared of hiring someone else not knowing.

rika May 4, 2016 - 1:12 am

Great article! I am going to bookmark this post. We’re moving into a new house and planning to do some updates

The Cameron Team May 6, 2016 - 2:46 pm

Good tips! Thank you for sharing! It’s so easy to get caught up in the “my buddy knows this person” cycle. It’s nice to have a referral, but you still have to do your due diligence.

Morgan June 1, 2016 - 1:54 pm

This advice is excellent and really important to follow. These are all things you need to consider before you hire a contractor. Choosing the right contractor for your home is a process that requires a lot of thought and planning. You give great guidelines here! Thanks so much for sharing!

Tina August 7, 2016 - 3:15 am

I just got a chimney repair done very well by an Angies list contractor, with multiple awards for excellence. Before deciding, I compared them to two other contractors also with the same awards. It turned out that the other contractor promised to inspect the chimney and submit a quotation within two days, but did not arrive until more than a week. Worst, in one part of the job (replacing the flashing), they referred me to another contractor – a guy who can hardly speak english, failed to show up on the time he promised, and had to call something like 3 times because he could not find his way to our house.

Silas Knight August 30, 2016 - 4:15 pm

Hiring a contractor is definitely a necessity in some cases. For me, it’s with anything electrical, since I don’t trust myself to fix that. However, doing these steps before hiring a contractor is definitely a good idea, especially the one about getting everything in writing. It’s for your protection!

Alli August 31, 2016 - 2:21 pm

I totally agree! I’ll never hire another contractor without a signed contract.

Brian October 24, 2016 - 1:48 pm

Awesome advice! It’s important to know who you are going to be working with and if you can trust them or not. Always have to do your research before hiring! Thanks for sharing.

John Mahoney February 23, 2017 - 4:12 pm

I liked when you talked about finding a contractor that is licensed. I can see that taking this into account can help you find someone that knows how to get the job done. It is important to remember to find someone who uses quality materials and has the tools to help you get the design you want.

brick work Northern NJ February 7, 2018 - 1:59 am

Improving the layout of your home can make your home more usable and enjoyable.

Iva May 9, 2018 - 2:43 pm

Hi Alli. Sorry you had such a bad experience with your general contractor. In addition to having a written contract, I would make sure to read as many reviews as possible and request a few professional references that you can all the phone and have a quick conversation with.

Another idea would be to ask them to do a small “test” job first like replace a window before your have them do something major like replace your roof. This will let you know exactly what type of work ethic they possess. If they don’t do a good job on your window, then and only then can they do your roof.

Anastasis June 2, 2018 - 6:31 am

Very helpful article with bunch of good informations! We just released our new post about top 10 questions for general contractors. You should check it out and inform yourself on time. Enjoy!

Penelope Smith August 6, 2018 - 8:10 pm

I liked that you pointed out that you should check if a contractor has a license. It is good to know that you should do that if you want to make sure that you get a good contractor. I know that I wouldn’t want to worry about them not doing a good job.

Ridley Fitzgerald October 30, 2018 - 10:26 pm

Thanks for the tips for hiring the right contractor. We’re looking for someone to come and repair our curling shingles on our roof, so this is great. I’ll be sure to get literally everything in writing, just in case. It’s better for everyone if we get that clarity.

Helen stiffler January 9, 2019 - 7:43 am

This is inspirational as well motivational post which have very helpful stuffs that will surely helps a lot to all…thanks for sharing with us.

home design and building Brisbane January 15, 2019 - 1:20 pm

Hiring the right contractor is very important in building your dream home. They should be excellent and should work in your budget.

James Anderson January 23, 2019 - 2:22 am

Fully certified, licensed and insured, we are a trustworthy source for interior and exterior renovation services in London, Ontario Learn more

Martin Travis March 18, 2019 - 6:33 am

Good informative article..i totally agree with your point about right contractor is very important. thanks for sharing with us.

Cindy August 27, 2019 - 11:10 pm

Great tips. You have to consider many factors in hiring a contractor, it is really important.

Megan Connolly October 30, 2019 - 12:58 pm

Thanks for sharing this wonderful article about the hiring contractor. I have no idea about hiring a contractor I get a clear idea from this article. I glad to you.

jack January 15, 2021 - 2:26 am

Not only was I robbed (you can read about it here) by one of the contractor’s crew members, I feel like I was robbed by the contractor because of the shoddy work. When I’m paying someone to do a job, I want it done right. I don’t want to (very nicely) show the contractor that you can see the sheetrock nails and tape on one section of the “finished” painted bathroom wall and be told, “well, you know this is going to put us behind.” I don’t want to point out that the ceiling needs another coat of paint because you can see that someone forgot to add a second coat when they were cutting in. Do it right the first time and problem solved!


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