Choosing the right contractor can make all the difference between a successful project and a dragged-out, over-budget undertaking that may never see completion. Finding a reputable, trustworthy contractor may seem like an intimidating task, but there are a number of easy steps you can take to make sure your project runs as smooth as silk. While the bottom line is “do your research,” knowing what to look for will make the mission of finding the best contractor for the job as easy as pie.

1. Ask Questions

It’s important to get a feel for how much experience the contractor has. You should ask questions towards the purpose of investigating whether the contractor has a planned, methodical approach to his or her job. If the contractor finds answering your questions difficult or challenging, it may be because he or she doesn’t really have an answer to your question — or, perhaps the answer is different than the one you’re looking for. Good questions to ask include :

  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the last twelve months?Not only does the answer to this question give you an idea of how much experience the contractor has with projects similar to your own, it should also give you an idea of how the contractor should respond to follow-up questions.
  • Will my project require a permit?Most remodeling projects and other property investments requiring a contractor will require a permit. While most contractors will go through the permitting process for you, that’s all the more reason to make sure they know for certain whether you’ll need one. The last thing you want to happen is to run into problems if you put the house up for sale. That’s why it’s important to take care of all legal work before starting a contracting job, and be aware if they say that the process is not too difficult. It’s crucial to make sure your contractor goes through the hoops.
  • Can you provide me with a list of references? It’s important to ask past clients about the contractor in question. The contractor should be able to provide you with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least three past clients. When contacting them, ask about cost overruns, the client’s satisfaction with the finished job, and whether the contractor is generally reliable (does he or she show up on time? will he or she clean up after they’re done?).

2. Do Your Online Research

There are a number of online resources at your disposal to help you look for a contractor you can trust. Your most trusted resources would be the BBB (Better Business Bureau) or the California Contractors State Licensing Board. These two regulate and offer thorough evaluations of the types of contractors you seek. The CA Contractors State Licensing Board is also an invaluable resource when it comes to selecting and checking the contractors, negotiating a contract, resolving disputes and more.

Other than these two above, there are a few other public domains where consumers can read reviews. One of these is Angie’s List, a website dedicated to connecting households with local contractors and other service companies; and another online resource is Yelp, which also provides user reviews of local home services. In fact, 93 % of Yelp users routinely check Yelp prior to making a purchase, which goes to show how important it is to read what other clients have said about the contractor you’re looking to work with.

3. Make Sure Your Contract is Solid

Contractors will often use their own forms and draft their own contracts. They’ll typically use this to their advantage, by making sure the terms are favorable to them. Because these contracts can be hard to navigate through and understand, it may be a very good idea to hire a lawyer. Although an attorney may cost you $300–600, this is still better than paying thousands of dollars down the road. Not only can a contractor end up charging you more than what the original budget you planned for, but any dispute you may have with that person can be costly and lengthy. That’s why it’s best to protect your rights by making sure the terms of the contract are favorable to you.

Some important points to keep in mind:

  • If your contractor is from out-of-state, you can help ensure that any dispute be litigated in your home state by adding a “choice of law” or “forum selection” provision to the contract.
  • To absolve you of any liability associated with unpaid subcontractors, ask that the contractor provide you with partial lien releases throughout the project and a final lien release when the project is complete. A lien is essentially a financial record of a debt owed between two parties, which in this case are the contractor and the subcontractor.
  • Protect yourself from runaway costs by including a provision that the contractor first consult with you before charging you an additional cost, requiring that any price changes be countersigned by both you and the contractor.

4. Create a Budget and Develop a Payment Plan

Before embarking on home remodeling or any other project, it’s important to have a good idea of the results you expect, the cost of the material, and the cost of labor. You will also want to put together a budget, with some margin of error. Setting a well-researched budget will help you avoid large cost overruns by setting financial constraints before the project begins. It will also help you track what the contractor is doing, by making sure that he or she isn’t over-charging you.

According to the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB), clients cannot pay a down payment of over $1,000 or 10 percent of the contract price, whichever is less, for a home improvement project. If your project is not covered by this law, a good rule of thumb is to never pay more than a third of the total cost as a down payment. Furthermore, it’s wise to settle on a payment plan system before beginning on a job, with a large chunk of total payment coming only after the project is complete.

Furthermore, don’t be scared to keep tabs on your project’s progress. This is your investment and you have every right to make sure you’re up to date on where the project is that, including how much of it is done and how much it has cost so far.

5. Make Sure Your Contractor is Licensed

Licensed contractors are regulated by the CSLB. Protections you’ll receive from a licensed contractor include :

  • Regulations concerning safety, competence, and professionalism
  • Arbitration and resolution duties to resolve disputes
  • Consumer education and information

When asking for proof of licensing, don’t take the contractor’s word for it. By visiting the California CSLB website, you can check for yourself. Simply ask the contractor his license number and type it into the website’s search bar (inputting his or her business name, personal name, or the names of his employees may also work).

It is also vital that you make sure the contractor is protected by insurance, workers’ compensation, and by a bond. These will help you avoid liability for any project site mishaps, including injuries and construction errors. Similarly, should there be any damages to your property, contractors’ insurance and/or a bond helps to ensure that the contractor can afford to compensate you for any financial loss. While contractor liability insurance is not required, it's still highly recommended that you look into it as a precaution. Being added will also ensure that you'll be made aware if the contractor loses their insurance or license as well.

Hire a San Diego, CA Contractor You Can Trust

If you’re looking for a contractor you can trust, call Collom Construction in San Diego, CA. Our licensed contractors have the knowledge and training to help you achieve the home improvement results you seek. With us, you can rest assured that your project will be completed on time, on budget, and hiccup free. You’re not dealing with a Craigslist contractor; we are a business with an established reputation for excellence. If you’re ready to make a safe investment in your future, contact us to request your quote today: 619.660.8282.