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The Insider’s Guide to Hiring a Contractor

I was recently talking to a neighbor who was in the process of hiring a contractor to remodel her kitchen.  She didn’t really know where to start or what to look for in a good, honest, reliable contractor.

This made me realize that many people who are not working daily in the construction industry are probably in the same boat as my neighbor. Hiring a contractor who is going to complete your project on time, on budget and to your expectations takes some diligent  homework on the part of the property owner.

First, you need to narrow down the field by asking friends, relatives and neighbors for some references for contractors with whom they have had good experiences with similar projects. Most people already know someone in the construction industry, whether it be an architect, a builder, or a different kind of tradesman, who could most certainly give you the name of someone who has a good reputation.

You can also ask area material suppliers and your local Better Business Bureau and the MHIC (Maryland Home Improvement Commission) to see if the referred contractors are reputable and financially solvent (lessening the likelihood of leaving you with a half- finished job or skipping town after you give them your deposit!).

Other referral websites, such as Angie’s List, have paying members that post reviews based on their experiences with local contractors.

Second, find out as much information on the project that you are doing. Most of this information is at your disposal right on the internet. What are the differences in materials that could be used and why is one more expensive? What are the common methods for installing the materials? What are the best choices for my lifestyle?

Next, once you have chosen at least 3 contractors from whom to solicit bids, you must ask these questions:

  • Do you have General Liability and Worker’s Compensation Insurance and can you provide me a certificate?  If something happens on the job, either to your property or to one of the workers, YOU could be left with a large claim on your homeowners insurance!
  • Do you have an MHIC license?  Homeowners can make sure at the MHIC website. If a contractor has an MHIC license they are required by law to have General Liability and Worker’s Compensation Insurance and be in good standing with regard to paying their taxes.
  • Can I have several references for the type of work that you will be doing for me?  Do you have any photos of completed projects?
  • Are you a member of your trade’s professional organization?  This shows that they are genuinely interested in the field and usually will be doing some kind of continuing education.
  • Will you be pulling permits for my job? Permits cannot be pulled by an unlicensed contractor.
  • When will you start and how long will it take?  Are there any variables that could change this schedule?
  • What happens if I have a problem with the job after it is completed?  Do you have a service department that will follow up on any issues we may have?
  • What kind of warranty do you offer on the project?

Once you have asked these important questions, you will need to follow up on that information:

  • Get everything in writing to include pay schedule, color, material choices, and warranty information on a legal contract that states the company’s name which matches their MHIC number .
  • Call and/or go visit the supplied references.  Also, go to the material supplier’s showroom and checkout the materials being used.
  • Check into the contractors’ reputations at the BBB ( and the MHIC.
  • Are the bids from each of the companies comparing apples to apples?   Are the same materials being used?  Is one way lower than the others?   If so, you need to find out why (refer to the questions above).  Be careful when it comes to pricing- the most expensive is not always better.
  • Maryland law states that a home improvement company cannot ask for more than 1/3 deposit upon signing of the contract.
  • Has the contractor been responsive to your phone calls and emails?  If not, it could be a sign of the way your job would be handled.

Once you have done your research and have asked all of the questions it’s time to choose the contractor who best suits your needs.

Hopefully by doing your homework you will have a finished project that will exceed your expectations!  Good Luck!