a contractor holding a wrench

How to Find an Honest Contractor

By: Steve Hembree
February 3, 2023  | ,

Looking for an honest and reliable contractor? They come in all types, from plumbing to pool contractors, to landscapers, electricians, you name it.

I believe that most, the majority that is, are honest contractors, hard-working men, and women, people who have opted for the joy of fixing things and daily changes of scenery instead of sitting in an office day in and day out.

Maybe I'm concocting a Norman Rockwell painting mixed with a Budweiser commercial here, but the service sector really is a massive part of the nation’s workforce and a vital component of everyday life. 
Having inspected properties since 2010 for banks, real estate brokers, insurance companies, and now for Management One, I can tell you that distinguishing between good and bad contractors is vital, and finding an honest contractor will make your life much more straightforward. So, let’s dive in.

What about the bad apples, the dis-honest contractors?

Yes, there are some dishonest contractors out there, entirely true, a lot of them as a matter of fact, but I think an ounce of forethought and prevention can prevent most cases of contractor abuse. We have all heard the horror stories of the roofer who gets paid half upfront, does a quarter of the work then disappears, or the pool guy who gets a hefty deposit, excavates, then seemingly ceases to exist.

I knew some folks a year ago, good churchgoers as a matter of fact, who would cheat their roofing customers any chance they got.

A guy I know, we'll call him James, was working for these folks and asked the boss why they were putting on the cheap roofing materials when the customer paid for upgraded roofing material. "Look at this house. It's ugly. Why put lipstick on a pig?" When he replied that the customer ought to get what they paid for he was told, "That's their problem," by the laughing boss.

Yes, there are bad actors, but you can minimize the possibility of poor, sloppy work, slow work, and your hard-earned money being absconded with by doing a little work on your end first.

About that elusive honest contractor...

How to choose a good apple from a barrel that does have bad apples?
What would you do? You would stop and examine each apple carefully, looking for bruises and holes, would you not? Yes, yes you would.

How is it any different with a contractor? It boggles my mind that anyone seemingly opens a phone book (yes, I'm old) and stabs their finger in the plumber section, boom, choice made. Or Googles up "Roofer" and the pretty ad wins. But yes, some people do exactly that!

Due Diligence to Find that Honest Contractor

Check. Verify. Check. Verify. THEN pull the trigger.

Isn't that a lot of work?

Yes, yes it can be a lot of work, but you like to keep your money, don't you?

  • Check references, particularly on larger jobs. Call people, the contractor has done work for in the past. If the contractor won't provide this information to you, then maybe it's just not meant to be. Take that as a sign and move on to the next contractor.
  • Use licensed and insured contractors only. If they are just a "Handyman" you found on Craigslist, they may not be either insured or licensed. Ask.
  • Check YelpGoogle, Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List and believe it or not, Facebook reviews. There are also other specialized portals dealing with and ranking many contractors, check those as well. Do keep your "nonsense sniffer" operating on this step. What I mean is to be aware that sometimes disputes happen through no fault of anyone involved. Joe Shmoe wants a roof done for three dollars; the contractor comes back with a bid of $8000, Joe blasts the contractor because the contractor won't play ball. It happens, but many times you can distinguish between nonsense and reality.
  • Ask people you know who had similar work done for them for references, and ask how it turned out. Who did they use?
  • Get it in writing. That means everything involved with the job to be done.
  • Never pay upfront, nor should you ever "pay half now and a half when the work is finished."  Pay the contractor the full amount when the work is done, and it meets your approval. There are some exceptions, such as pool deposits and the like; however, you should question even those scenarios. Where does the money go and what percentage is refundable should I change my mind? Get it in writing.
  • Also, keep in mind that the "The Bid is the Bid" mentality can sometimes work against you. When a contractor bids, they cannot foresee everything that may happen during the job. Sometimes items pop up in the middle of the work, something that needs attention, something that may cost you more. When the honest contractor does come to you with this item, do listen and consider what they are telling you. If they must come back another time to do the work, disassembling the item to fix the said item, will cost you more, perhaps substantially more.
  • Get multiple bids, especially on high-dollar items, but do bear in mind that sometimes the cheapest bid could cost you more in the long run.


Your wood patio cover needs repair because it has wood rot.

Contractor A) says you should just replace it outright with an aluminum cover to keep you from having this issue again in a few years. Quotes you $2670 for the demolition of the old 200 square foot cover and installation of a new aluminum cover the same size.

Contractor B) bids $850 to repaint the wood cover. What about the rotten wood? "Don't worry 'bout it, I'll take care of it?" he says while patting his beer belly and chewing his cigar.

Contractor C) bids $2200 to demo the old cover and put up a new cover also made of wood. Yes, you save over $400 right now, but in 10 years you're paying AGAIN.

Who's an honest contractor here?

With A) you're taking care of the whole problem.

With B) you find out a year later that he spackled the rotten wood flush, then painted the whole thing. You know this because the whole cover collapsed and you're having to go to court and may lose everything because someone was injured.

Finally with C), it's an okay solution, but realistically you are throwing good money after bad.

The cheapest bid is not always the best bid, that’s the moral of the story. However, neither is the most expensive in some cases. It really revolves around your tolerance for expense versus risk, risk being of concern first, followed by concern for cost.

Mistakes happen. There are whole industries set up with this thought in mind. You carry automobile insurance; realtors carry Errors and Omissions insurance, your house has Homeowners Insurance because we humans make mistakes, we commit errors. Heck, in baseball there's a whole category devoted to how many errors any player in any position has made, and awards for players who commit the least. Not a single ballplayer is perfect, and neither is your contractor.

If a contractor errs, give them the opportunity to "make it right." An honest contractor will not hesitate to do so if the error is truly theirs. However, if the error is egregious and the contractor does not take responsibility, do bear in mind that if your contractor is licensed and insured (if you use real contractors as we do, that is), you do have recourse. The licensing board, the courts, and of course, social network rating systems.

There is a difference between "getting the job done" and getting the job done right.

— Dwight C. Gibson, Jr.

At the end of the day taking care of your property in the best conceivable way while looking at the big picture will not only save you money, but you'll feel darned good about it.

Learn more about choosing the right contractor in our post Quality Contractors vs. Cheap Contractors.

Contractor on site holding his work hat and wearing a toolbelt

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