How to choose the right contractor

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Home renovation projects have seen an uptick in the age of coronavirus, which means there are a lot more homeowners taking bids from contractors. Many homeowners are familiar with the process of working with a trusted contractor, but new home owners may have had little experience in this arena. 

For the many successes in hiring a local contractor, there are also the occasional horror stories where the work was not completed in time or to the client’s satisfaction, the final price far exceeded the initial bid or — in the worst case scenario — homeowners have been ripped off due to poor communications with their hired contractors and poor planning in the initial stages of the job bid.

“While you’re at it…”

The Idaho Contractors Board is a statewide agency dedicated to protecting the public health, safety and welfare through the registration of those who provide contracting services in Idaho. The Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses spokesperson Julie Eavenson wrote to the Reader that if a homeowner feels a contractor has violated any of the Board’s laws or rules, “they can file a complaint against that contractor’s registration. If, after an investigation, it is determined that the registrant is in violation of the board’s laws and/or rules, the board may then impose discipline on their registration.”

The board may then impose monetary sanctions, a probationary period for offending parties or a suspension or revocation of the registrant. These civil matters are generally handled through mediation or the courts. The noard does not have the authority to impose monetary damages or restitution.

Eavenson highlighted what steps a homeowner should take to make sure they hire the right person for the job:

Get recommendations

“Always ask for and check references,” Eavenson wrote in an email to the Reader. Word of mouth is still a powerful thing, especially in the age of social media. Start by asking trusted friends and family if they have any recommendations for contractors that would be good for a home renovation project. Also, don’t be afraid to speak with your local building inspectors, who often work hand-in-hand with local contractors so they meet routine code requirements. Finally, local lumber yards can be a great source of information, as employees generally know which contractors buy quality materials and pay their bills on time. 

“Hire only registered contractors and verify if they have previously been disciplined by the Board,” Eavenson wrote.

Be detailed in the description of work

“Be aware that several contractors may be needed to do different portions of the job,” Eavenson wrote. “For example, it may be necessary to hire a contractor to do the carpentry but a plumber to do the plumbing. Beware of anyone stating they can do it all unless that individual is licensed for each type of work they are performing.”

Request verification of current insurance coverage

“Please note, liability insurance is not insurance that the project will be completed to the customer’s satisfaction,” Eavenson said.

Put the contract in writing

Don’t skimp on the details. Be specific about everything, including payment schedules, the work to be done, the materials to be used, the total cost, and the start and completion dates. There should also be some requirement that the contractor obtains lien releases (which protect you if they don’t pay their bills) from all subcontractors and suppliers.

According to Eavenson, “Do not sign anything without reading and understanding the terms. Stay away from verbal agreements … Questions regarding a contract? Seek the legal advice of an attorney.”

Ask a potential contractor if you can visit another of their job sites

You don’t want to be a pest, but if you’re forking over tens of thousands of dollars for a large home renovation job, it helps to see the contractor you’re leaning toward walk the walk. If they are amenable to having you visit one of their other job sites, look around. Is the job site safe and tidy? Are workers courteous and careful with homeowners’ property? Are they respectful of the neighbors?

Compare bids

After you’ve narrowed down your selection, look over their different bids for your job. Be up front with the contractor about what you plan to spend and, more importantly, what your spending limit is. Don’t be afraid to ask contractors to break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins and other expenses. Beware bids that come in significantly lower than others.

Negotiate a payment schedule and stick to it

“Do not pay cash,” Eavenson wrote. “Pay by check and get itemized receipts.” 

If a contractor wants a large portion of the payment up front, it could be a sign that they may have financial problems or that they are worried you won’t pay the rest after they’ve seen the work. Every contract and job is different, but generally if you are being asked to front a significant portion of the work ahead of time, that should be looked at as a potential red flag.

Beware red flags

“Steer clear of any contractor who is not properly registered, cannot provide references, is requesting to do the work with a verbal agreement only or requesting more funds than originally negotiated or stated in the contract,” Eavenson wrote.

Check with the Idaho Board of Contractors if you have any further questions 

“Be aware that Idaho law requires general contractors to provide certain disclosures to property owners and customers,” Eavenson wrote. “The Idaho Building Contractor’s webpage has good examples of disclosure agreements. You can check them out at”

There are a lot of honest, hard-working contractors in North Idaho who can help you complete that dream home renovation job. Follow these guidelines and keep an eye out for red flags, and your project will hopefully be one of the success stories.

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