How To Know If Your Home Improvement Professional Is Worth The Price Tag
No one likes to overpay. But if you're looking to hire a home improvement professional to do some work, you might not know what’s a fair price. Services like installing a deck, repairing a roof, or remodeling a bathroom can cost a lot of money, but most people don’t know what to expect—or understand what goes into the final cost.
“There is a natural information imbalance between the consumer doing the hiring and the pro doing the work,” says Mischa Fisher, chief economist for leading digital marketplace HomeAdvisor. “The pro typically has the time, tools, and talent to do the work, while the homeowner lacks knowledge about how things are done, how long they’ll take, how good the pro is, and how much things should cost.”
Have a home improvement project in mind for which you’re considering hiring a pro? Here are a few tips from the experts on how to find a contractor who's going to do quality work for a fair price.
1. Thoroughly read reviews from trusted marketplaces
When you have no clue about costs or a contractor's quality of work, begin by doing some research at Consumers' Checkbook, Angie’s List, or HomeAdvisor.
“Marketplaces are a great place to level the playing field,” says Fisher. “Homeowners can check reviews to understand if the pro has a track record of doing good work, and how many other people think the pro performed as expected. They can also check marketplace cost guides to see how much things cost and should cost.”
2. Ask for referrals—and call them
If your neighbors across the street rave about a contractor they hired to work on their deck, you might want to consider hiring them as well.
“A high-quality professional should have a history of satisfied customers,” says Fisher. “When a pro is giving you a bid for their work, it’s prudent to have a conversation about similar jobs they have performed in the past, and if they have references you can check for other work that they’ve completed.”
Getting a list of references is one thing, but make sure you actually follow up and call the references to confirm they were satisfied.
3. Check for licenses and work history
Anyone can say they are a contractor. But what separates the professionals from the amateurs are permits, licenses, and a steady work history.
One way to check whether a contractor is licensed is through Angie’s List License Check, which can be searched by state and profession or trade. You can also check the Better Business Bureau or visit your state's licensing board website to verify the license.
“Licensing can vary a lot by state or county," says Fisher. "Even if the occupation itself does not require a license, many jurisdictions may require permits for jobs to be completed."
4. Ask for photos or videos of recent work
Contractors may talk a big game about all the great work they’ve done, like that beautiful spa tub and outdoor bar they put in for their last client. But talk is talk, and you want to see proof before hiring them. Don't hesitate to ask for photos or videos of their work to see the type of quality product you'll get.
“Similar to asking for references, an experienced pro should have examples of recent work that they’ve done that is similar to the job you’re looking to have completed,” says Fisher. “This is particularly important if you’re looking for a comprehensive remodeling pro, but it can also be important for jobs that are smaller in scale like painting a single room, moving some light switches, or redoing the plumbing for a bathroom fixture.”
Fisher says it’s not realistic to expect a pro to have pictures of every single job they’ve ever completed, but having a picture or two of similar work to yours should be expected.
5. Have frank conversations about timeline and budget expectations
When hiring a contractor, you need to set a timeline and discuss expected total costs.
“Open communication between you and your pro is extremely important. Before hiring someone for your job, make sure you feel comfortable talking to them about your project requirements and expectations,” says Angie Hicks, co-founder of Angie’s List.
She says to discuss your budget and ideal timeline and, once terms are agreed upon by both parties, to make sure they're in the contract. She says your pro should be honest about potential delays and how they will be handled.
“When discussing budget, determine what will work for you, but only share 90% of that budget with the contractor. That way if surprises come up or you decide to change something midproject, you have money to cover it without causing financial stress,” says Hicks.
She says to also tell your contractor that you need an itemized list of materials, labor, and any other costs, and to make sure to spell out whether you require specific materials, brands, colors, etc., or if you’re fine with your contractor finding the right materials.
“Keep the door to conversation open throughout the duration of your project," says Hicks. "And if a contractor won’t work with you on reasonable requests, find one who will."