How to hire a contractor

By Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein, Special to The Detroit News
Published 5:55 p.m. ET Oct. 15, 2020

The Inside Outside Guys get a lot of inquiries from listeners wondering how they should go about hiring a contractor to perform work on their home. Whether you are calling a plumber for an emergency repair or a remodeler to re-work your kitchen or bath, there are some basics to keep in mind before you sign a contract.

Did the contractor come from a strong referral you can trust?

While past performance does not guarantee future success, it is one of the best indicators we have of a contractor’s dedication to their customers. Ask yourself “Who is referring this company to me?”

 Is the contractor currently licensed for the work in question, and have they provided a copy of the license?

While licensure does not guarantee expertise, good service or happy customers, it does offer the consumer a bit of protection if a legal issue arises and it also is often a requisite for insurability (see below). The name of the business on the license must be the same as the name of the business on the contract/proposal.

 Is the contractor currently and sufficiently insured to protect the consumer from potential injury and damage claims?

If a worker is injured while working on your home, you could be held liable for any claims made by the injured party – unless you are “held harmless” by the contractor and their insurer. Seek copies of proof of insurance directly from the insurer. They can fax, email or direct mail these to you. Talk with your own insurer prior to hiring contractors.

 How long has the company been in business in this market under this name?

One potential “red flag” is evidence of a company dissolving, and then re-forming with the same ownership under another name.

  Does the company offer a complete written proposal/contract that indicates everything that will/will not be done including all specifications, contingencies, costs  and anticipated time frames?

You should never agree verbally to any work, price, terms or product that has not been reduced to a clear and easily understood writing. The writing should include descriptions of work and materials to be furnished and all anticipated costs for such work and materials.

 Does the contractor offer “first person” written warranty?

You want to make sure the contractor furnishes a written labor and materials warranty for as long as you can get it – and it should be honored by the initial installing Contractor and backed by any manufacturer’s warranty. This assures that any calls for service are handled by the same people who first sold you the product.

Does the company pay its bills?

You can talk with major suppliers to make certain the company you hire is paying for the materials that come to your job – otherwise you could be responsible for payment.

 Does the contractor take responsibility for acquiring necessary permits and inspections?

 The written contract should assign this responsibility to the contractor. You can find out what is needed by talking with your local building department.

 Does the contractor list a permanent place of business?

This should be indicated on the proposal and the license.

 Does the contractor offer referrals from past customers?

This is important and you should follow up with some phone calls to past customers. Keep in mind it is much easier to ask questions and resolve issues before any work is begun.

If a project is larger in scope or you simply want good third party advice before signing anything, contact an attorney to review all documents for you.

For more home improvement advice listen to The Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760 WJR-AM, from 10am-12noon or contact us at with your questions.

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