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Choosing A Contractor

Whether you are looking for a general contractor or a specific trade, determining who you should contract with, can be a very frustrating experience. Reference checks are a critical part of the exercise. When requesting references from candidate companies ask for projects that they have successfully completed that are similar in scope, size, complexity and value. However, that is the easy part of the exercise as it is highly unlikely that anyone would provide references that will not say reasonably good things.

There are four other areas, when choosing your potential contractor that should be considered and verified:


To my knowledge all states require that all contractors and all trades, in all aspects of home improvement, construction, renovation and remodeling be licensed. However, in some states it is possible for a trade or contractor to lease the use of a license. Many counties in Florida operates on this ridiculous principle. While the person who holds the license is supposed to monitor the quality of the work and the financial aspects of any company or individual that he licenses, in practice this rarely happens. This means that the company and the individuals who will do the actual work have not obtained their own license and the usual reason is that they do not qualify.

Request a copy of the trade or general contractors license, see who is identified as holding the license and it is in your best interests that the company or the owner of the company (some licensing is only to individuals not to corporate entities) that you are going to do business with is the actual license holder and if it is an individual make sure that they are still active in the business.

If you are dealing with a general contractor you should stipulate in the contract that they are to only to subcontract with licensed trades and that the company doing the work or the main principal of the company must hold the license.

Do not accept out of hands statements such as; of course we’re licensed, the number is on my business card and truck


It is important that the company that you are going to contract with carries adequate liability insurance. The best contractors and trades people in the world can have an accident or unintentionally do damage that was unforeseen. If the companies that you are dealing with are not adequately insured you could be facing economic ruin in the event of an unforeseen disaster.

Again, it is important to ask to see an insurance certificate and to state within the contract that all subcontractors must carry liability insurance and provide a certificate.

Do not accept out of hands statements such as; of course we’re insured.

Bonded Employees:

You choose the contractor, sign on the dotted line, and hopefully the workers will begin to start the project and in most cases that means that they will need reasonably unrestricted access to your home.

The situation is, that you have no idea who these people are or what their backgrounds may be. Do they have criminal records? By dealing with companies that bond there employees you will have some level of comfort that the people working in your home are not convicted child molesters or felons.

Make employee bonding a requirement for the subcontractors as well.

Drug Testing:

Although not quite as critical to the other points, I recommend that you only deal with companies that have a mandatory drug testing policy for all employees.

Problems usually arise because homeowners are anxious to start the project. Be very sceptical about any general contractor or trade that implies that your requests are onerous and that by asking for the documentation you obviously don’t trust them. The fact of the matter is you have no reason to trust them and supplying the information is not onerous for any legitimate company.

Also see:

Hiring a contractor - take our contractor quizzes! Quiz-1


Additional information on selecting a contractor