How to Hire a Contractor

Your home is one of the most important investments that you will make in your life. Planning and taking preventative measures will help to ensure a pleasant experience.

When selecting a contractor – whether you are hiring one for home improvement, remodeling or new construction, there are important steps to follow. If you make sure the contractor you are considering is licensed, insured and reputable you will avoid a lot of problems.

In Tennessee a contractor’s license is required for projects in excess of $25,000. Home improvement contractors are required to be licensed for projects from $3,000 to less than $25,000. Always check to see if the contractor is licensed and in good standing. The Board for Licensing Contractors can be reached at 1-800-544-7563 or you can use the website at The license search website also provides license information for other regulated professions such as Real Estate Brokers, Home Inspectors and Real Estate Appraisers.

Get It in Writing

A written contract, spelling out all the details, should be used, even on small projects. Keep in mind, any promises that the contractor makes will be difficult to enforce unless they are in writing.

The contract should contain the full name, street address and phone number of the contractor as well as the home owner. It should also have an agreed upon price, complete description of the work to be done, and materials (grades and type) to be used, the starting and completion dates, clean up after the work is finished and the payment schedule.

Never sign a contract with blanks to be filled in later.

Never pay a remodeler or contractor the entire cost of the work up front. On remodeling projects, never pay more than one-third down.

Never release the final payment until the project is completed according to the contract. You should also have proof that all suppliers, employees and subcontractors have been paid by the contractor.

Remember that changes, no matter the size, cost money, especially the ones you make after the work has begun. To avoid misunderstandings, make sure that your agreement with the contractor, concerning both the changes and costs, are put in writing and added to the original contract.

Steps to Selecting a Contractor

• Ask to see the contractor’s license and write down the number. A pocket card is provided to all licensed contractors. To check for complaints against the contractor, contact the TN Board for Licensing Contractors “Complaint Section” by telephone at 1-800-544-7693 or by email at Contractors.Home-Improvement@TN.Gov  Closed complaints with disciplinary action may be reviewed at:  Disciplinary Actions

• Get recommendations from friends, neighbors, and the Johnson City Area Home Builders Association. Use a local, well established contractor. Ask the contractor for references then call the references, ask questions and look at the work.

• Ask the contractor if the company is insured against claims covering worker’s compensation, property damage and general liability. Document the conversation with date, time and outcome.

• Get it in writing. Estimates should be very specific and should include exactly what you’re getting for the price. Make sure all bids are based on the same set of specifications and include a completion date. Get a written contract for ALL work. Avoid “fly-by-night” operations and be cautious of unusually low-priced bids.

• Be sure to see the building permit before work starts, and make sure it is not in your name. Never obtain the building permit yourself for work being done by a contractor. By doing so, you assume all risks and it will be difficult to recoup any money for inferior work. Projects completed without a permit might hurt a home’s resale value, and such projects are often not covered by homeowner’s insurance policies, meaning damage to areas of the home where an illegal project was conducted won’t be covered.

• Payment; do not pay cash. Never pay entire cost up front or make final payment until the job is complete. If the builder/remodeler is unable to pay for the materials and labor as the project proceeds, this may indicate a potential problem. Keep a file and tally of all payments.

• Take time to talk to your contractor about your project and any concerns you may have. Frequent, effective communication is the best tool to prevent misunderstandings or resolve most difficulties.

The Johnson City Area HBA is a non-profit trade organization representing Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties that is dedicated to helping the local building industry and building professionals. We encourage consumers to use JCAHBA as a resource. Please contact us, (423) 282-2561 or, for more information or visit our directory of building professionals






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