If you’ve owned your home for any length of time, you likely have needed some sort of contractor at one time or another, whether for painting, remodeling, or any other home improvement project. And you probably remember how hard it was getting a good one. Good contractors really are out there; it’s just a matter of finding them. But how do you go about choosing a contractor that will meet your needs? Following are helpful tips from top contractors that will help you choose a house painter or any other type of contractor, the next time you need one.

Step 1—get referrals

Everybody you know will have referrals for you. In fact, sometimes it isn’t even really necessary to mention this step, because your family, your friends, and most especially your nosy neighbors, are all chomping at the bit to give you their advice about contractors, as well as the ‘name of the guy I used.’ But make no mistake; just because your neighbor may seem a bit pushy, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take his advice. In fact, his house is right there … go check it out! If your neighbors or family have referrals for you, by all means, get all the contact info you can about those contractors, take a good hard look at their work, and contact them if you like what you see. Other great resources when choosing a contractor include Home Advisor and Angie’s list.

Step 2—conduct interviews

Once you’ve compiled a list of at least five initial prospective contractors, it’s time to make your phone calls. Here’s a list of some questions to ask at this stage of the game:

  • “How long have you been in business?”
  • “Do you use subcontractors?”
  • “Are you bonded and insured?”
  • “How much do you charge for an estimate?”
  • “How do you handle cleanup?”
  • “Do you take care of all necessary permits, or do you leave that to me?”

You may also want to ask how many other projects they’ll be working on at the same time as yours. It’s also important to know that some contractors do this type of work ‘on the side,’ meaning they have other full-time jobs during daylight/weekday hours. You’ll need to know when they’ll be at your house and how long they expect the job to take. From here, you can narrow down your list answers, narrow your list down to three.

Step 3—do your homework

Wait … now do your homework? Yes. Well, naturally, there will be homework at every stage of the process, but this step is specifically mentioned because it often is the step most folks skip. Before you hire a contractor, do background research. Check out their licenses and make sure they’re current. Don’t forget to get references from them as well. And, by all means, follow up on those references—and that doesn’t just mean making a phone call or two. Ask references if you can stop by and take a look at the work that was done.

Conduct in-person interviews

Now you need to know if you feel comfortable with the folks who’ll be working for you. If you don’t feel at ease with someone, don’t ignore those red flags. You need to be able to communicate with each other in order to get the job done right. Finally, get bids from all your in-person interviews, if you can, in order to weigh your options.

Step 4—get it in writing

Now it’s time to get it in writing. Draw up a contract that includes details of all stages of the project. Include specific materials to be used, payment schedule, as well as start date and completion date. Important note:  If the length of time the project takes holds a high degree of importance, when negotiating and drawing up a contract, be sure to write these legal words on the contract:  ‘Time is of the essence.’ This way, your home contractor will know not to exceed time allotted.

They say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Unfortunately, this also applies to contractors. Contractors are coming out of the woodwork these days, and the bad ones know you need them. Problem is, they can smell fear and unpreparedness a mile away. But that shouldn’t worry you in the least, because you are going to be prepared. Start out by getting some referrals from trusted friends, family, and neighbors. Head to their houses to take a long look at the work that was done and, by all means, take notes! Check online with Angie’s List, Home Advisor, and other Internet resources in your area. Get all the necessary contact information, and give at least three of these names/companies a call. Conduct interviews that include questions about how long they’ve been in business, if they use subcontractors, all necessary costs, and how they handle cleanup. Finally, get it all in writing—ask beforehand how much they charge, including the cost of an estimate.