Six Ways to Find A Good Contractor

As I am writing this, the painters are working away, and they are doing a beautiful job. We are still so pleased with our choice of Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore. BHH has been wearing her red, white, and blue proudly, for most of the summer. (Looks like I just assigned BHH a gender too. She is a she. Does that sound right?)

After three summers, I feel weirdly attached to the painters. They are the kind of people that I could invite over for a beer. At this point, they seem almost more like friends than contractors.

I do not get this attached to every contractor who crosses our path, and we have hired plenty. People often ask me how to find a good contractor for an old house, and today’s post addresses that question. Even though we are avid DIYers, we have our limits. Our skills do not always align with our physical strength or vice versa. Being able to find a good contractor is so important.

When we first moved into BHH, we were also new to the area. At that time, we had no connections or resources. I will not lie. That was a pretty helpless feeling. We left a great support network in California, and one of my biggest fears about hiring any contractor here was that we might accidentally hire someone shady, and we would lose a lot of money. I think that is a pretty common fear amongst homeowners.

Angie’s List

Six Ways to Find a Good Contractor

Angie’s List ended up being a great option for us. When we first joined, it was $7.99/year. With our membership, we had access to thousands of local companies. We could view their reviews and ratings and choose accordingly. We loved knowing that we could leave our own ratings and reviews so we could share our experience with others.

As of November 1, 2016, Angie’s List switched to tiered pricing, and there is now a FREE account option.

Additional benefits of an Angie’s List membership, aside from the contractor connections, are the member deals. Member deals are general offers, labor or credits toward a project, from different contractors. Some examples might be something like this:

  • Eight hours of tree service for $120
  • $99 for two hours of electrical service
  • $100 for a $500 credit toward HVAC installation

These deals are particularly useful if you have a bunch of little jobs that need attention, but you do not want the hassle of collecting bids or finding someone specific. In our case, we bought a member deal for an electrician. I had a small list of electrical repairs. It included two broken closet lights, and we needed to terminate the electricity from the bank of lights that we removed in the dining room.

They knocked out those jobs and a few others in two hours. If I had needed more than two hours worth of work, I could have paid them at their going rate. For each project, I paid extra for materials. In some cases, I already had the supplies on hand. Each deal is a little different so make sure and read the fine print carefully.


Before we found Angie’s List, we asked our realtor for recommendations. While our house was in escrow, we needed to show a contract for some costly electrical work before the title company would allow us to close. Naturally, I was in a bit of a panic. Ever patient, our realtor came through with a few names for us to call. We were on a serious deadline. We’re talking days before closing. Through our realtor, I connected with a great electrical contractor, and he completed the work on our new 200 amp panel the same week that we moved into the house.

Now that we have lived in the area for awhile, I have another friend who is a realtor, and she is a wealth of information. She connected me with the contractor who will be repairing the spongy porch roof and the section of rot on the back of the house.

Lawn Signs

Six Ways to Find Good Contractors

In my town, companies post yard signs while they are on the property working. Since I know that we might need a contractor at any moment, I pay close attention to these signs. First, I take note of the working conditions. Are the workers tidy? Do they maintain a professional demeanor while they are on the job? Granted, this is nearly impossible to assess if they are working on the interior of the house. If I am in the area often, I pay attention to how long they are on the job site, and I consider if the amount of time makes sense or seems excessive.

Typically, I snap a quick picture with my phone, and I email the photo to myself or send it to Dropbox.  This method is how I found our painters. I saw their yard sign while I was out for a run.

Talking to Contractors at a Job Site

Closely related to yard signs is speaking to the contractor while they are on the job site. As long as the situation seems safe, I feel comfortable approaching someone who is working. This is how I found one of our potential brick masons. He was working on my neighbor’s chimney. First, I asked him if he ever worked on very old chimneys like ours. When I found out that he had a lot of experience with that type of work, I asked him for a business card so I could call him for a bid. Keep in mind that the goal here is to make contact for a later time not to take the contractor away from the job at hand. I have no desire to steal a contractor from someone else.

The benefit of reaching out to a contractor who is working at your neighbor’s house is that you can ask your neighbor if they were satisfied with the work. If they were not, you might want to take that contractor off your list.

Asking Around

We have had the least success with this method, but it is worth considering. Again, I fall back to when we moved here, and we had no connections. As I made new friends, I asked them if they had recommendations. Most of them knew someone who had used a contractor, but it was rare that I got a direct endorsement. This method is also a bit riskier because if you have a bad experience with a contractor that your friend recommended, it may strain your friendship. I am not the kind of person who holds a grudge or takes things personally. So, this is not a factor for me. If you are a sensitive person, you may want to avoid this topic with your friends and stick to asking strangers or acquaintances instead.

Six Ways to Find Good Contractors

I came to this conclusion after BHH got a new roof. Our good friend suggested that we call his direct neighbor, who owns a roofing company. In all fairness, our friend did not know his neighbor well, but they had shared a laugh or two over a bottle of scotch. We solicited three bids, and our friend’s neighbor’s company was the lowest one. For a variety of reasons, I was not pleased with the outcome of our project, and they did not complete some of the work that they were supposed to come back and finish. Fortunately, I had not paid them for that part yet.  Although we parted ways amicably, I will not use those roofers again.

In this situation, I do not blame my friend at all. It is just a little awkward since the roofer and our friend are still neighbors and friendly acquaintances. If we all end up in the same place, it might be a little weird and uncomfortable.

Home Shows

A Home Show is a one-stop shop for remodeling, landscaping, and decorating needs. Hundreds of companies exhibit their wares and hand out flyers and schwag. (It’s fidget spinner heaven!)  Somehow, odds and ends such as this ridiculous exercise machine end up in the mix.

Since I am DIY-obsessed, I love Home Shows. I feel supremely satisfied poring over motorized awnings and cement pavers. I am oddly excited by fake patios, and I love a good “spin-the-wheel, earn a prize” display. That said, the home show is really best suited for people living in modern construction. Since we will not use vinyl replacement windows or “maintenance free siding,” our choices are limited. Most of the supplies offered at the home show would look kitschy or garish on BHH. 1880s construction is just so different. Even something as simple as a modern machine-made paver might look odd with the aesthetic of BHH.

Within the endless rows of vendor booths, it is possible to find a few gems for old home owners. I managed to find a company who makes custom storm doors. They will design storm doors that look like our original leaky screen doors.  I also located a company that reglazes clawfoot tubs and sells separate cold and hot water faucets. I filed their pamphlets in my home improvement binder.

This list is not exhaustive, but it is a good start. If you have suggestions or methods for finding contractors, please let us know about them in the comments. Now, I’m off to admire the day’s progress from the painters.

This post is the third in a series of posts about DIY Basics. We hope you find these tips and tricks useful. We encourage you to pin this post for later and if you have any questions, please ask away!


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