We recently wrote about budgeting for a fixer-upper. This can save you money, and you may be able to spread out the expenditures by doing the repairs over time. You have to be willing to bear with the inconvenience of living in the midst of construction, but the biggest hurdle is finding the right contractor.

This is an area that has long been ripe for rip-offs, and horror stories abound. Naturally, people are hesitant to engage in significant construction. We provide a helpful and thorough process to give you peace of mind and confidence when you are ready to make the hiring decision.


Many people ask friends and families for recommendations. Does one name keep popping up? This is an excellent sign. Ask what type of work was done, since a contractor may be proficient in one area, but lacking in others.
This is a good start, but insufficient. You can see if the contractor is part of the The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), whose members are required to follow a Code of Ethics and Standards or Practice.

Beyond asking for a referral, you can use a website such as Angie’s List, which has ratings and reviews. Angie’s List, along with places such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Costco, provides a level of comfort since they guarantee the work.

Those workers that knock on people’s doors are not a right way to find a contractor. While not all are crooks, promising to do the work cheap from the leftover material is a well-known scam.

Now that you have your list of names, it is important to do your homework.


You need to come prepared and know what to ask. First, ensure that the contractor is licensed and insured (workers’ compensation claims, property damage, and personal liability). It is essential to ask what type of work they have done. You may be able to glean if they like certain jobs better than other ones.

In this area, experience counts. Find out how long the contractor has been in business, and, while you’re at it, there should be a business card with a permanent address.

Other questions include if they have previously done a job your size. Perhaps he/she has done a bunch of small jobs, but yours would be the biggest one ever. It may be too large based on his capabilities and resources. At the very least, this should prompt further questions.

There are also more in-depth questions you should ask. You want to know how many projects he/she has going on at the same time, along with finding out more about the subcontractors he/she uses, including the length of the working relationship.

Lastly, you should ask and receive a list of references. Ideally, these are recent, and the work is similar to the job you are contemplating. Even ask if you can see a current work site.


The more references you have, the better. There are basic questions to ask, such as if he/she started and ended on time. Was the job done within the budget? Did the workers clean up after themselves?

Some people may even be willing to show you the work. If so, this is a golden opportunity not to be passed up.
Aside from customers, you can ask the building inspector’s office to see if the contractors regularly meet code requirements, or if there is a consistent problem.

A payment schedule

A contractor should not expect the whole payment up front, nor should you part with the complete amount. It is reasonable to place a 10%-15% deposit, with increments paid based on certain milestones, which should be understood before the start of the job.

As for the final payment, you should not feel pressured. Make sure you are completely satisfied with the work, even scheduling it after the last work is complete to ensure there are no issues that crop up.

Put it in writing

The work details, along with the payment schedule should be put in writing. The more detailed, the better it is for you. Not only does it protect you, but it also prevents misunderstanding. It should have the start date, completion date, description of the job, materials to be used (be specific), proof of liability insurance, total cost, and a payment schedule.

Concluding thoughts

It looks so natural on HGTV’s hit show, the Property Brothers. They convince someone to buy a fixer-upper, and always manage to complete the project on time and within the budget. In reality, unless you have a direct line to the Scott brothers, finding the right contractor is challenging. We hope we have provided a roadmap to make it easier.


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