Hiring a Contractor: 10 Things to Think About

Are You Bad at DIY? How to Find the Best Contractor

You've assessed your skills and interest in building a pool, patio, or other backyard project, and realized you're not cut out to be a do-it-yourselfer, at least for a venture of this magnitude. It's a big decision and a big step, which calls for finding someone whom you can trust to follow through with the job until the not-so-distant finish. Everyone has a construction horror story; consider these tips to help your project have a happy ending.

  • 01 of 10

    Sources for Finding a Contractor

    Finding the right contractor is a priority. Photo © Lisa Taylor
    The recommendation of a friend, family member, or neighbor is one of the best sources, because you know they'll give you an honest account of their experience with the contractor and you can witness the results firsthand. Beyond that, you could ask for names at a local pool supply or building materials store, although be aware that they might be biased or be getting a finder's fee if the contractor lands the job.
  • 02 of 10

    Check the Websites

    Follow the "state" links at the Contractor's License Reference Site, which will guide you in the right direction for your specific region. Also, check out the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for further information.

  • 03 of 10

    Types of Contractors

    A pool or concrete contractor would know how to tackle this crack in the walkway next to the pool. Photo © Lisa Taylor
    Research the type of contractor you will need, whether it's a pool contractor, deck contractor, patio contractor, tile contractor, etc. Sometimes it's a good idea to go with a general contractor, who will be in charge of subcontracting different parts of the job.
  • 04 of 10

    Questions to Ask

    Discuss all the fine points of a contract before signing. Photo © Lisa Taylor
    Don't hesitate to ask too many questions — just ask the right ones. Key questions include:
    • Are you licensed? Ask for proof, and check with your state's contractors' licensing board to verify.
    • When can you start and finish? If you have a deadline, let the contractor know upfront, adding extra time so they can complete the job before the big event.
    • How many years have you been in business?
    • What is your work schedule for my project? Make sure they arrive and leave at the same time each day...MORE they work. The contractor should provide a calendar listing days on and off.
    • Will you be the onsite supervisor? If not, who will be?
    • Will the same subcontractors and workers be with my project throughout its entirety?
    • Do you carry workmen's comp? Ask for proof.
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Obtain 3 Bids

    Ask each contractor the same questions and check all credentials. The most expensive isn't always going to give you the royal treatment, and the cheapest quote might not be the most economically advantageous.
  • 06 of 10

    Get References

    If possible, hand-select references from a list the contractor should provide, and call recent, repeat, and longtime clients to get legitimate testimonies. Ask how they know the contractor — if you're talking to his mom, politely end the conversation and look elsewhere.
  • 07 of 10

    Potty on Premises

    Photo © Lisa Taylor
    Make sure the contractor provides a portable bathroom for the crew, or you may encounter uninhibited workers using your facilities at inconvenient times, not to mention the mess.
  • 08 of 10

    Get it in Writing

    Photo © Lisa Taylor
    Prior to igniting the project, everything must be spelled out in a contract. Enlist a trusted friend (ideally a lawyer) to peruse the document for any errors, omissions, or inconsistencies.
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Schedule of Payments

    Don't take your contractor's word - check with local and state laws and regulations that might apply regarding down payments. In most states, consumers should not pay a contractor before each step is completed.
  • 10 of 10

    Right to Cancel

    Some states, like California, have a three-day right-to-cancel policy written into every contract. Check with your state's government office or site for more information. Good luck!