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How to Hire a General Contractor

Searching for a reliable general contractor to handle your home project can be intimidating. Whether tackling something as simple as painting or something more complex like an extensive kitchen remodel, you must source the right professionals!

But knowing how to find the best contractor for your project can be challenging. To make sure everything goes smoothly (and for your peace of mind!), Lisa Holt gives you key pointers when selecting a contractor for any size job.

Where to Find a Contractor


If you're looking for an experienced professional, pay attention to word-of-mouth endorsements. For a truly authentic and reliable take on any contractor's work ethic, these referrals provide unique insight that can be invaluable in your search!

Online Pro Lists

If you're looking for an experienced professional, pay attention to word-of-mouth endorsements. For a truly authentic and reliable take on any contractor's work ethic, these referrals provide unique insight that can be invaluable in your search!

Material Vendors

​​Connect with a vendor to source qualified professionals for any project. You'll have access to an extensive network of industry experts!

Red Flags

With all the potential candidates, it pays to keep an eye open for any significant warning signs. Whether you're in your initial search or near wrapping up your hiring process, be sure not to overlook these key flags that could indicate a hire gone wrong:

  • No insurance and/or license

  • No references

  • Poor reviews

  • Multiple business name changes

  • A bid that's way too high or way too low

  • They ask for cash

  • They ask for a full upfront payment

  • They don't sign a contract

  • They tell you that permits aren't necessary

What Do I Need to Ask the Contractor For?

Have the contractor provide you with the following items:

  1. A copy of their license

  2. A copy of their worker's compensation insurance (if they have employees)

  3. A copy of their liability insurance

  4. In the US, your municipality may require an EPA (environmental protection agency) certification

  5. W-9

  6. List of references

Lien Waivers

When it comes to contractors, there are two ways they typically operate. They either have an entire team on their payroll or subcontract certain aspects of the job, such as plumbing and electrical work. If you choose a contractor with this approach, be sure that any subcontracted workers must first receive your approval before beginning - not only that, but they should also sign off on a lien waiver stating all materials used were paid for in full! This is something essential so make sure it's non-negotiable!

Narrowing it Down

After completing the interviews and finding your top contenders, it may be beneficial to have a follow-up meeting. This can help ensure all requirements are in place and any potential scope of work adjustments are discussed before final bidding.

"You should aim for a 5 - 7 day turnaround time; if there are considerable discrepancies between bids, be sure to discuss this with the contractor." – Lisa Holt


With your selection made, the onboarding process awaits. In this step, your contractor will field all necessary documents and review a comprehensive contractor agreement - an outline of what both parties have committed to.

Scope of Work Review

Ready to get started with your project? Start by reviewing the final scope of work and materials you've chosen. This will clarify who is buying what, so no one ends up in a misunderstanding later down the line! Take particular care when looking at itemized pricing- make sure it includes every finalized piece, from rough material cost to labor allocation. For example, if a natural stone tile was budgeted for but ultimately purchased separately, this expense should be removed from overall bidding costs for accuracy. With these details accounted for early, you can rest easy knowing everything's ready to go ahead!

Establishing a Payment Schedule

Establishing and adhering to a labor payment plan is paramount for successful project completion. By working with contractors to identify milestones that authorize payments, both parties can have peace of mind knowing the job will be completed on time, without dispute or budget overruns. Several varieties of contracts will inform your payment schedule.

Here are a few of the most common types:

Deposit and Final Payment

Starting a project may require more than one payment – an initial deposit to cover the necessities such as permits, materials, and labor, followed by a final remittance for any remaining costs. This approach often works well with smaller projects to ensure everyone is happy.

Progress Payments

Payment schedules for mid to large-sized projects don't have to be a headache! You can make timely payments at checkpoints throughout the project, giving you more control over your cash flow.

Checkpoint types include:

Time-based Payments

Time-based payments provide a reliable and equitable way to cover costs for complex projects. Payments are split into equal installments paid monthly on predetermined dates. However, these payment intervals may need to be adjusted for unexpected changes or delays during the project's lifecycle - especially when dealing with lengthy builds that can last over twelve months!

Milestone-based Payments

Milestone-based payments effectively manage longer renovation projects, especially when they can be broken down into smaller phases. This system involves paying contractors at certain moments upon completion of each phase - such as the final clean-up or installation of flooring – giving them the incentive to keep progressing through the task within a set timeframe for successful results.

Completion-based Payments

If you're considering a contract that pays in intervals based on completion, be sure the project has clear itemized budgets or schedules of values. Otherwise, determining when to make each payment according to progress can become complex and time-consuming!

"For greater efficiency, schedule payments at every 10% interval." – Lisa Holt

Following the tips and advice in this guide sets you up for success from the start! You'll come to the table armed with the insight many homeowners lack - this valuable information provides an edge when looking for the right general contractor and navigating negotiations.


But wait, there's more!

To gain exclusive access to a super secret pro tip not mentioned in this article, become a member of the dezignclub today! It's the world's ONLY online interior design platform where you can get help on your design project from Lisa Holt herself! At the dezignclub, you'll get personalized support, unique design resources, in-depth education, advice, curated shopping, style guides, coaching, and more! Join today!

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