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How to Tell If Your Home Contractor Is Being Honest

How to Tell If Your Home Contractor Is Being Honest

By Teo Spengler


When you engage a contractor for a home renovation, you want someone who will be a full partner in the project, so trust is essential. But if you’re working with a contractor for the first time, it can be difficult to decide whether that person deserves your confidence. Most contractors are hard-working, honest people, but every barrel has some rotten apples. While no litmus test can establish a contractor’s reliability, it’s possible to learn what you need to know if you’re willing to invest some time and effort.

Check a Home Contractor’s License

Every state requires building contractors to be licensed. They have to carry the license number with them and include it on all bids and work contracts.

Ask the prospective contractor about their license. Is the person licensed as a general contractor? A plumbing contractor? An electrical contractor?  Does the project you are undertaking fall within the scope of this contractor’s specialty?

Call the licensing agency to verify that the contractor’s license is in good standing and be sure that the contractor is in fact who they claim to be.

Verify a General Contractor’s Insurance

Under state law, building contractors must carry liability insurance and worker’s compensation insurance. Liability insurance covers damage the contractor does to your property while worker’s compensation covers injured workers and their families. Ask the contractor about insurance policies, and verify that the policies are still in force. A contractor without proper insurance is not operating within the law.

Talk with Former Clients

An honest, experienced contractor should have many satisfied clients. Ask for names and phone numbers of former clients, and note how the contractor reacts. If he provides them readily, it’s a good sign. Call the former clients and listen to their impressions. Next, look on Angie’s List, Yelp and similar online sites to see whether the contractor is well-liked and has a good reputation. Call the Better Business Bureau to see whether clients have complained.

Demand Answers You Can Understand

While renovations can be complex, a contractor should be able to explain what needs to be done and why, in language you can understand. If the contractor uses complex descriptions or appears impatient with your failure to grasp information, it could be a sign that something is fishy. It’s also a bad sign if a contractor refuses to look you in the eye when talking to you. Even if this is merely a communication issue, rather than a sign of untruthfulness, it may be better to find someone you feel comfortable talking to.

Watch Out for Tardiness

An honest contractor is one who has respect for you as a client. This respect, or lack of it, is apparent in little issues as well as big ones. Set up an appointment to talk to the contractor at a set time and place. A contractor who respects your time will appear punctually at the time agreed, with the information requested. And watch whether the contractor gets estimates to you when promised. Sloppy time management won’t work in your favor.

Check for Precision in Documentation

When you review a bid from your contractor, your eyes may make a bee-line for the bottom line: the price. But you can learn a lot about the contractor’s way of working by a close look at the documentation. Is the description of the work precise, including the measurements of the areas involved in the renovation? Is there line item detail in the bid? While precision and honesty are not twins they’re in the same family. The more effort a contractor puts into a reliable estimate for a job, the better the chance they are honest.

Get Multiple Bids from Other Home Contractors

No matter how much you like a contractor, you should get multiple bids for a household renovation project. This gives you options, but it also gives you information. If your contractor’s bid is twice as much as the next highest one, something is wrong somewhere.


Writer, novelist, attorney and world traveler, Spengler has published thousands of online articles including on many topics, including travel, law and the outdoor world. She holds an M.A. in English, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley, and splits her time between San Francisco and France’s Basque Country.


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