Guidelines for Choosing a Home Contractor

Guidelines for choosing a home contractor. Know how to avoid common pitfalls of hiring contractors, including understanding legal qualifications of contractors and contruction contracts.

| November/December 1982

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    The following suggestions and guidelines for choosing a home contractor—which are based on my own experience as a craftsman and contractor—are intended to help you pick the right person to manage the building or renovation of a home.

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If you'd like an expert to work on your home, here are guidelines for choosing a home contractor to avoid contracting problems. 

Even the most ardent do-it-yourselfer is occasionally confronted with a task that exceeds his or her ability and/or time . . . and among the most common "too big to handle" jobs is the construction, major repair, or remodeling of a building. However, even if the work involved is left to professionals, an individual still needs skill, experience, and time to pull together the diverse efforts of a selection of specialists to guarantee that the results are sound, attractive, and economical.

The following suggestions and guidelines for choosing a home contractor—which are based on my own experience as a craftsman and contractor—are intended to help you pick the right person to manage the building or renovation of a home. What's more, I hope my comments will assist you in developing a good working relationship with your contractor.


Obviously enough, selecting the right man or woman to oversee the construction (for example) of a home is the most important step in avoiding post-construction headaches. But actually finding a person with the skill, integrity, and personality to work well with you may be easier said than done. However, you can start your search by contacting the local building inspector, who may be able to provide a list of reputable contractors. (Frank Mesaric—the inspector for my hometown, Montrose, Colorado—offered the following information when I questioned him over the phone: "I can't recommend one contractor over another, but I can provide a list of five whose work has proved acceptable to the community.") Another way to check on builders is to call local materials suppliers, who—at the very least—will tell you whether or not a particular individual pays his or her bills promptly.

From these general sources, develop a list of at least three contractors . . . and then look into the background of each one more closely. Ask them for credit and work references . . . then follow up on the leads to see whether they're valid. It's especially important to speak with some former customers, to find out how satisfied they've been with your prospective employee's work (and remember, the person you hire will be functioning as your employee). From those conversations, you're likely to learn a great deal about whether the particular contractor, however skilled, has either ideas about housing that are similar to yours or the flexibility to meet your needs. (You'll want a really exceptional contractor if you aim to build an unconventional structure . . . such as an earth shelter or a post-and-beam house.)


There are several basic legal qualifications that may or may not be required of contractors in your area, and there are still more that—although they're optional—you may want to demand. A license, for example, isn't mandatory everywhere . . . but if a contractor has one, there's a good chance that he or she is reputable. Of course, there are also valid reasons for an individual to forgo a license where it's not required—including the added expense and the imposition of controls from the building department—but you should be particularly careful in your scrutiny of a contractor who doesn't have one.

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