Interviewing & Selecting A Contractor

Just because a company has a bunch of employees, advertises all-the-time, or “has done 10 projects in your neighborhood” doesn’t mean that they have quality service or are proficient at the trades. On the other hand, smaller companies are not necessarily more detail-oriented or faster to respond just because they have fewer customers. There are good large companies and good small companies. You must determine which is right for you.

As a rule, contractors who are constantly improving themselves and their businesses through continual education, training, and networking often make the best contractors (and their businesses come in all sizes). Let their credentials, experience, and expertise be your guide, not the size of their company. Education is paramount. Would you want a teacher teaching your children if she had never been to school herself? Or, an accountant without an accounting degree and the letters CPA (Certified Public Accountant) after his name advising you on your finances? Contractors have certifications, designations, and education as well. Give continuing education weight in your decision-making process.

How Do You Interview the Candidates?

Treat your research seriously and prepare for the process. After you build a list of potential contractor candidates, spend time organizing your thoughts & preparing your questions before meeting with the first contractor candidate. At each interview, observe how each candidate reacts and responds. Don’t be afraid to take notes.

Some suggestions to get you thinking:

  • When you discuss what you’d like to do, does the contractor show enthusiasm for your ideas and suggest ways to make them work better?
  • Is customer service emphasized?
  • Will they work within your budget constraints? Will they be honest when your budget is way less than the project will require?
  • Do they seem organized when you discuss the job with them?
  • Are their business materials neat, professional, and complete (business cards, flyers, website, etc.)?
  • Do they carry insurance to protect you from claims arising from property damage or job site injuries (get a copy of their insurance certificate, don’t just ask the question)?
  • Do they offer a warranty?
  • Will they arrange for the construction permit?
  • Do they specialize in particular types of projects?
How to Decide?

You probably have a budget already in mind and know how much you are willing to pay. If not, maybe you are planning to “get three quotations and pick the lowest.”

DO NOT LET PRICE be the main reason you choose one contractor over another! Often the lowest bidder is cutting corners somewhere they shouldn’t. Would you want the lowest paid doctor operating on your child? …or the cheapest lawyer defending you in court? Make your choice based on service, knowledge, ability, and communication; not based solely on price.

If you can’t afford to do it right, how can you afford to do it over?

When you hire a contractor, you are buying a service and expertise rather than a product. The quality of service the contractor provides will determine the quality of the finished product and your satisfaction with it. Only choose a contractor who returns your phone calls, answers your questions, and has a trustworthy reputation.

This is not a decision that should be solely based on whom you “like” the most or whom was the “nicest” or had the “best personality.” However, you will be working with the contractor and their team for an extended period of time; so, how you emotionally feel about them should have some weight in your decision-making process. Use your emotions, use your gut… just make sure your research and intellect have a bigger say in your final decision.

If you put as much time, or more, into selecting a contractor as you did in selecting & planning your last vacation or in choosing if and where you or your children should go to college, you’ll make a good decision in the end. Plan for it. Spend time on it. Debate it out with your loved ones. Then trust yourself that you made the right the decision. Moreover, trust your contractor and their expert advice.


The Johnson City Area Home Builders Association 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.

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