Image of a general contractor and client shaking hands.

How to Find a General Contractor

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Renovating or adding on to your home can be a stressful process. And trying to find a reliable, trustworthy contractor to take on the job can be difficult! With a little extra effort, you can find the best contractor for the job and have confidence that your project is in good hands.

If you want to do some renovations around the house, whether it’s a big fix or small repair, a good general contractor can help you get things done, on time and on budget. An added benefit? When you hire a contractor, you won’t have to worry about enlisting the help of friends and family who lack handyman experience — you can trust that your job will get done with the utmost care. And with these best practices in mind, you’ll find a contractor who won’t leave you second guessing your decision.

Hiring a General Contractor Checklist

In a hurry? Want to get your project going as soon as possible? Reference our handy checklist, check all the boxes and get a move on your home improvements:

Do your research. The Better Business Bureau and local court records are excellent resources for finding any past issues connected to a contractor. It’s also a good idea to dig into professional disciplinary boards in your region. These steps can take some extra time, but you’re putting your home in this person’s hands, so being proactive about protecting your home is a smart move.

Asking your friends and family for a referral is a great way to find a quality contractor, too — and contractors know word of mouth is a great way to do business! Start out by asking those closest to you if they know any good contractors. If you come up short there, go ahead and Google it. There are a ton of great referral resources online.

Shop around and get estimates. You don’t have to go with the first contractor you reach out to — have a detailed idea of what you need them to do in your home and ask for an estimate. Then, do the same with other contractors you’re considering and compare those estimates with your research and other criteria to make a decision.

Review their completed projects. A good, experienced contractor will have examples of their previous work to help show their skills and abilities. Even better — find a project they’re currently working on and ask the homeowner if you can stop by to see them in action on the job. Check out how clean the jobsite is. How many people are working? Does it look safe and are they being respectful of the homeowner’s property? Checking references of previous and current customers might be the best way to judge the quality of your contractor’s work.

Insist on proper permits. Most home renovation projects require permits. If a contractor suggests skipping the permits to save money and time, it’s time to find a different contractor. If you don’t get the proper permits, you could be at risk of violating local ordinances, and that could lead to a fine. And when you have the right permits, it means the work will be properly inspected by the city or county to ensure everything is up to code.

Check the licenses. Municipalities can vary on licensing requirements, but a license of some sort is typically required. Check to see what your area recommends and then make sure the contractor you’re interested in is up to date.

Verify insurance coverage. Get a copy of the contractor’s insurance policy and speak with your agent so you know what’s covered by your homeowners insurance and what’s covered by the contractor’s business insurance.

Ask the right questions. Asking the right questions can help you paint a picture of the preparedness, responsibility and overall quality of a contractor. Not sure what to ask? Try these to get the conversation started:

  • What are their specialties?
  • Do they handle jobs like yours regularly and is the size of your project within their scope?
  • Do they subcontract any of the work? If so, will they provide you with information on the subcontractors?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Do they have the proper licenses for your municipality?
  • Will they give you a list of references or previous clients that you can call?
  • When can they start working and how long will it take?
  • How many projects will they have going at the same time?
  • How do they handle permitting?
  • How much will the entire project cost and how much of that is for supplies?

Plan on interviewing at least three different contractors and getting a written bid from each one. Once you have your three (or more) bids, don’t be afraid to negotiate on price.

Final Considerations Before Hiring a Contractor

Once you’ve done your research, compared the numbers and work of your potential contractors, it’s time to make a decision. When making that decision, make sure to complete these two steps:

Confirm the terms and schedule the work. Once you’ve got a clear picture of each of your potential contractors and their work, it’s time to negotiate, decide on the terms of the agreement and schedule the work.

Get it in writing. Having even the finest of details for your project agreed upon with the contractor is a great move, but it’s best if you can have everything ironed out, itemized and signed in a contract. If changes are made along the way, get them in writing, too.

Other Home Contractor Considerations

We’ve given you the must-dos — but there’s plenty of other steps you can take to be even more certain that you’re picking the right contractor. Check them out:

Talk to your agent. Your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) is a great resource and always to help. They know and work with local contractors, especially in storm damage situations. They’re likely to have trustworthy recommendations on reliable contractors, too. And, if a storm is the reason for your renovations, they can help you get started submitting any applicable storm damage insurance claims.

Consider the materials. Another great topic to discuss with your American Family Insurance agent before you begin construction is if there are homeowners insurance discounts for using certain materials or having upgraded or renovated systems. Going with the cheapest bid and the cheapest materials may actually cost you in the long run. Being an informed consumer gives you the finished product you want, plus the potential to snag some discounts down the road.

Stay local. In major storm situations, outside contractors may venture to your area, baited by the opportunity of new business. But along with those reputable contractors come those looking to take advantage of storm victims. If at all possible, try to stick with local contractors who have ties to the community and a reputation to uphold. They’ll also be better versed on where to find subcontractors and supplies in your region and are more likely to comply with local licensing requirements.

Learn what you can about subcontractors. It’s not uncommon for a general contractor to have a few subcontractors they use regularly for specialized jobs. If your contractor is going to be using subcontractors, take time to learn more about who they are, what they do, what that means, how payments are handled and other finer details. The more you know about the team working on your home, the better you’ll feel about the job getting done right.

Watch for lowball bids. If one of the bids comes in way lower than the others, it may be tempting — but it’s probably not a good idea to go with that contractor. When one contractor is really out of range of the others, it might suggest they are cutting corners. The money you think you’re saving now could lead to big expenses down the road.

Don’t pay everything up front. While it’s expected that you’ll pay something up front in order to buy materials, you should never pay the entire bill before the work is done. If you’re being pressured to make a full payment before the work even starts, it’s probably in your best interest to walk away from that contractor. If you can, set up a payment schedule. Make a down payment at the start, a bit more at certain milestones and pay majority of the balance at the end, when every detail is done to your satisfaction. Both parties should feel comfortable that the payment schedule is fair.

If you’ve found a great contractor who you trust to deliver a quality job, on time and at a price that’s fair, you’ve discovered a real gem. Let them know that you appreciate the way they handle their business and how they treated you and your home. Offer to be a referral for them or write them a sincere review. A little appreciation can go a long way!

And after the job is done, get in touch with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) again to make sure you’ve got the right amount of homeowners insurance to protect you from the unexpected and give you the peace of mind you deserve.

Tools & Resources

Explore our tools and smart tips.