First and foremost, it's important to identify your project. I categorize projects in two ways. One is a "got-to-do-it" project, and the other is a "desired," or "vanity" project. As a veteran remodel contractor, I've noticed a difference in people (including myself!) when we have to do something versus when we want to do something.

For instance, I've found there's a tendency for clients to take the "cheap route" when faced with an undesired project—like a surprise rot repair! I highly discourage you from making a decision based upon emotion; instead, focus on service and experience. There is a big difference between the best value and the lowest cost. The main takeaway is that it's very important to look for a contractor who is sensitive to both your personal needs and the specific project logistics.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

The type of project also plays a big role. There really is such a thing as the right contractor for the right job. If you need your roof replaced, look for a roofing contractor. If you need to paint your home, look for a painting contractor. However, there are a lot of projects where it's not so easy to define the type of contractor you need. For example, a contractor who specializes in decks probably isn't best suited for historic front porches or stairs. There are a lot of general contractors who may not have the expertise needed—or may have too large of a business infrastructure—to tackle precision on a small scale. In this day and age there are thousands of contractors that seem to specialize in one thing or another, and very few that can accomplish the tasks in between.

That's why my company, Westbrook Restorations, focuses on old-school values, master craftsmanship, and project management. With these at our core we can accomplish just about anything with a high level of quality, no matter the specific job.

Once you define your personal and project needs, it's time to start looking for the contractor to get it done. This is when you start your due diligence: finding, interviewing, and then choosing a company. If you do good research, it's more likely that you'll find a contractor who cares about you and your home and will execute your project smoothly and professionally.

Any Project Starts With Trust

I once had a person call me in tears looking for advice. He had chosen a contractor that bid the project for $200,000, but was only able to make it about halfway through the job before running out of money. The contractor's response: he underbid the project and realistically needed another $150,000 to finish. The homeowner had borrowed money for the remodel and was ultimately left with a home in ruins and a contractor who simply disappeared. The lesson here is that it is up to you to do your due diligence. Unfortunately, our state doesn't require a test when applying for a contractor license. It really comes down to a trustworthy relationship between a contractor and client.

So, what can you do to find the best contractor for your job?

First: Research.

Use the internet and read about the contractors. Pictures are great, but you want to look for a company's philosophy. A philosophy helps you learn a lot about a contractor. Look for customer testimonials and reviews. A contractor is only as good as his or her work, and another client's testimonial is a great indication of what the project would be like for you. 

Second: Check your state website to ensure the contractor is actually licensed.

You can also see how long a company has been in business. Check the Better Business Bureau and other websites or social media to find out what other people have to say.

Third: Ask for references.

Be sure you talk to past clients, and don't be afraid to ask to see projects in person. Like I mentioned before, pictures are great, but there's nothing like seeing a project first hand.

Fourth: Schedule an in-home interview.

This is the time to make sure you have a relational fit too. Ask questions that are specific to your project, as well as questions about their company philosophy. Rapport is key as you are considering a working relationship.

It's worth saying again: any project is first and foremost about trust, and price is usually reflective of the quality of the project. If you get three bids, the lowest is typically not the best choice. But at the end of the day, you need it to feel like the right relationship.