How To Spot an Honest Contractor from a Mile Away (or up close)


how to spot an honest contractor

Have you ever been in the position of having to place your trust in a contractor who you hardly know? I think we all have. Placing pure faith in an almost complete stranger to dismantle and (hopefully) reassemble your home is always risky. We don’t need to look far to find a friend or family member with a sad ending to a home renovation project.   You are not alone.  So how can we have confidence that our project will turn out great and we will enjoy the process?


How can you play it smart?

Some people believe that with several quotes to choose from, they have a better chance of finding the best (or cheapest) one. And although this process of “shopping around” is great, it does not guarantee a smooth and dilemma free experience for your home project.  Most homeowners, conservative and wise, choose the one whose price is the lowest in order to win.

While we don’t disagree with the logic behind this thinking, we challenge homeowners to think further. Why did Contractor A come in so much lower than Contractor B? What did Contractor B see that Contractor A maybe missed? Why did Contractor A’s estimate come back so quickly, and Contractor B took a little longer.

  “Mrs. O’Connell and her husband got several estimates but were discouraged by the cost and how long it would take to finish. All the contractors who bid told them the fence would cost at least $5,000 and take four to six weeks to put up….The couple found a contractor in the Yellow Pages who promised to build the fence for $2,000 and to do it in a week. “We were like, ‘Thank God we found this guy,’ ” Mrs. O’Connell said. “We’re thinking, ‘This is fantastic — those other people were going to rip us off. There was a rip-off involved, of course, but it was by the low bidder, not the other contractors. After pressuring Mrs. O’Connell to give him a $1,000 deposit for construction material quickly, he disappeared. He never showed up to build the fence, nor did he answer the phone calls Mrs. O’Connell made as the weeks dragged on.’ ”By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
New York Times
Published: July 1, 2007
No, you’re right. This story isn’t the norm. Thank God it’s not.


We are a company who, like other remodeling companies, pride ourselves in our work and our crew. But more than this, we are firm believers in building a relationship of trust and friendship with our customers. We have found that great customers make the best team in the most successful home renovation projects. Thats how we choose to see it, we are all in this together, everyone wins.

Now, let us delicately explain the breakdowns that different companies all have. I will also help you understand how to spot a few red flags, quickly!


These are the cost the company needs to run day-to-day and expenses to manage the projects they are hired to do. Also called OVERHEAD.  Simply put, the larger the company, the higher their overhead tends to be. This is not necessarily a bad thing. These companies are larger for a reason. They must be doing something right or they wouldn’t be in an expanding business. Don’t be so quick to rule them out of the equation.  On the other hand, a smaller operation might have a much lower overhead. Also, not a bad thing because they may be able to bring that quote into your budget.  Always do your research. Check reviews. Do read the testimonials.  Then we have PROFIT. This is the sum the company needs to gain to keep employee’s well paid and a future to expand into.  Again take a look at the reviews for both companies. Start with a website. Does the contractor have any presence online? This could be a red flag. (No, not always)  Use your wits, but try not to let the dollar amount be the only deciding factor when it comes to ruling out a quote.



Second, EXPERIENCE. Another reason quotes may vary by the hundreds (or thousands) of dollars is the level of experience of the contractor. Let me say this- THERE IS A LOT THAT GOES INTO A PROJECT.  The inexperienced contractors may miss key item costs in the original quote. Sure, we all make mistakes. The pain comes in the bill in the mail. At the end of the project you may see a surprise “extra charge”. They expect you to pay because, after all, the work had to be done. But, ouch. Unforeseen costs can spoil the experience quickly.

Suzanne & James Horton

Suzanne & James Horton

Read our customers testimonials!

What you SHOULD see in an honest contractor. Or what are some RED FLAGS

  • PROMPT. A good contractor will be prompt. When the initial phone call is made to set up an appointment to meet, expect to get a specific time and date to meet at your home to discuss the project. RED FLAG If the contractor is late (without a phone call and a good reason) this is a sign of poor communication and organization. Not a deal breaker, but this is when you should pay careful attention to their next steps.
  • PROFESSIONALISM.  This a must for us. When meeting a new client for the first time, I will be showered, dress nicely, and present myself in a professional manner. RED FLAG Anything less I consider disrespectful to the homeowner. Nobody wants a poorly smelling, poorly dressed, contractor tracking mud into their home.
  • QUESTIONS ASKED. A thorough walk-through and detailed questions of the specifics of your request are what you want.  He may take measurements and possibly snap a few photos.   After the initial walk-through, the contractor should give you a reasonable time-frame of when you could expect to receive your estimate. Communication is key in these situations. Non-communication, or lack thereof should throw up another RED FLAG!
  •  FIRST IMPRESSIONS are very important. You only have one chance to give a first impression.  This means looking the part and acting the part as well. I don’t really need to explain this one too well. Go with your gut!


Understand the difference between ESTIMATES and QUOTES/BIDS.

Estimates are exactly what they say. Estimates. An educated guess based off of standard materials, raw job materials, time and labor, and does not include unseen and unexpected costs. But,  a  quote, should have a detailed price breakdown and very closely resemble the cost of the overall project, specifics in the direction of selections the homeowners has described, or already chosen. 

  • When dealing with much larger projects such as an addition or another extremely involved job, a contractor may charge a fee for an estimate. As for us, we DO NOT charge for estimates.  Should the homeowner decide to move forward with the given estimate, we then move into phase two of the project. This involves choosing specific materials and selections as well as the details and behind the scene work. Your agreement will show a detailed breakdown of prices and time/labor foreseen. For a more accurate price, we have a pre-construction agreement process. This does have a fee to cover our cost of time and your commitment to us, but comes with all the essential items needed to get the project started. Things such as blue prints, detailed specifications, scope of work, material selections, a schedule of the project, and so forth.  Only after this process do the homeowners sign off, shake hands,  and the project moves forward.
  • Not all contractors have this method, and it doesn’t mean that they are out to get you. But have a keen sense if your quote or contractor seems a bit unorganized (RED FLAG)  They simply may not be qualified for the job. Not all jobs require detailed bid, but all homeowners deserve professional and timely work.


So, the end result of the project IS in your hands. Do your research. Ask for references. Find their business name online.  Look at their website (hopefully they have one), and ask your friends. 

In the end, you want someone finds pleasure in the work they do and not the paycheck alone.

We hope this helps you on your journey BEFORE you make the hire. And of course, we’d be delighted to hear your feedback or comments. Thanks for reading.

Your Honest Contractor,


Ryan Vatter