How to hire a residential contractor

Was going to title the thread “how to select and hire…” but really the problem is not selecting. I can check licenses and BBB listings, read online reviews, no problem.

What I can’t do is convince a contractor to work with me. Every time I need a job done, I contact about 10 or more contractors in the appropriate field, and I’m lucky to get one call back. After that, it’s a gamble whether we get so far as for the contractor to come out, spec the job, and prepare a contract, let alone get the work started.

I think it may be the house. It’s quite modest and to be honest a little shabby, on a busy street in a not-great neighborhood. I suspect initial interest is always low because of this – people only want to work for rich people in huge houses. (Mind, the house isn’t a wreck and the neighorhood is not scary.) If I do manage to get anyone to come out, I’ve been repeatedly ghosted after the initial walkthrough.

I need a million things done but right now looking to do about 5 big things:

  • Re-insulate the attic
  • Replace three exhaust fans, and correctly vent them outside of the house, instead of into the attic (this one requires a degree of trust that the contractor knows what they’re doing with roofing)
  • Clear fairly major debris from the crawlspace, replace the damaged vapor barrier on the ground, and replace the ruined ducts so that heat and AC reaches the back part of the house (thanks on all three of those points, Mr. Crooked Contractor who I freaking WISH had ghosted me)
  • Install a surge protector for the heat pump
  • Replace the front door

The last guy – an energy efficiency firm, the door job being a one-off – prepared a bid for around $15,000 to do all that, then dropped off the face of the earth before he let me sign it. Back to square one again, and there’s still no heat in the bedroom.

Does anyone else have the same issues? I’m ready to flood the market with hundreds of requests for bids, like you used to do sending out your resume. Any tips for getting people to even return an email? (Once they do, I’ve been warned, select someone too busy to do the work for months. If you find a contractor who’s not overwhelmed with work, there’s a reason for that.) But the problem of selecting among multiple bids, should I ever have that problem, would be a luxury.

I’ve had repeated problems getting contractors to provide estimates or if they’ve provided estimates, to agree to do the work once I’ve accepted. I have a shabby house in a nice neighborhood. My solution will be to move to a nicer house in a nicer neighborhood. When this house is empty, I can get all the work done at once and rent it out.

When I was younger I would tackle pretty much everything on your list as a DIY. Learned a lot and discovered it wasn’t difficult or expensive to produce good results. I was always wary of contractors because of the horror stories of them running off with the money and not doing the work. I did hire a firm recently to do a rather large retaining wall. I’m generally happy with the result but, like making sausage, I wish I hadn’t seen the process. It was a 3 week job with about half a dozen dudes. No porta potties on site though. Turns out the dudes were pissing in water bottles and just burying it in the work. And on day 1, which also happened to be my first day at a new work-from-home job they cut our cable line from the street. Very nice day for first impressions.

I wanted to do solar on the house, so I called around and signed a contract and was promptly ghosted. They responded when I canceled the job and they tried to get me to pay a $3,000 cancellation fee. I invited them to sue me for it. Never heard back. I’m never going to hire a “pro” again. It seems it’s not only a few bad actors out there bilking folks, it’s an industry standard practice. If you’re having trouble finding a contractor, consider yourself lucky.

One thing you can try is to post a request for recommendations for contractors who have done work in your area on You will get guys volunteering their services - ignore those. Good ones aren’t hanging out on Nextdoor trying to find work. If you are lucky you will find some neighbors who have had good experiences, and it can help to tell a contractor that they were recommended by a satisfied customer.

Ambitious list! Flipping? Consider yourself the GC. Good luck!

You should be able to find experienced people to do one thing or another. But not the whole house/ enchilada!

Haul away the debris in the crawlspace

Heating and cooling /

Insulation/ roofing


Hire it out piece by piece.

I’m not flipping, I’m a guy with a list of needed work that grows longer the more years I can’t find any contractors. Perhaps you’re right about not attempting to do all these jobs together, but then the financial enticement to each specialist is much smaller.

I agree on going with a GC. There are numerous trades involved in your projects and having a GC schedule and coordinate them (who does what and when) at least in my opinion, would be wise. Also, there will likely be issues (problems) with some of the work and having a single point of contact to discuss and address them would certainly be beneficial.

It’d be easier on him to have someone else coordinate all the work certainly. Yet he’s been unsuccessful in finding anyone to willing to do it. If he can find reputable tradespeople to begin on this or that they may also be able to refer other tradespeople for other projects as well.
Times awaisting, busy season coming up don’t spin your wheels waiting to find one person to do it all, they’re probably booked up by now!
Buy a front door and have the company install it.
Find a junk hauler have them haul away the junk.
Etc etc

That’s what I’d do ymmv

For some of the smaller jobs, like replacing the front door, look for a local handyman rather than a general contractor. Then, once you’ve established a good relationship with him, ask him about some of your bigger jobs and see if there is someone he could recommend.

As a General Contractor, I can tell you, finding the right contractor is hard.

Not only do you need a skilled, reliable contractor, you need one that is good at the task you need done. Not just that they have the skills, but the proficiency to be successful at it. Narrows the feild a lot.

We use a lot of sub trades. They come and go somewhat. We had subs we used for years and then things went south, their performance tanked for whatever reason. We have lots that start out really good on a couple jobs and then go south. Generally we find a good trade, try to identify what they do well / like and use them for that. We have several plumbers, several electricians, painters, etc. They all have their strengths, but the main thing is they are reliable. Good carpenters are the hardest to find.

My best advice is you ask lots of questions, and if someone doesn’t seem interested, ask if the know who might.

We have had good luck using contractors that friends (especially our friends who are also the real estate agents who handled our house and condo transactions) have recommended. The one guy we have used for almost any project of any size that we have done, including our recent kitchen renovation that I posted a thread about, doesn’t advertise at all. He has no website, no Facebook page, nothing but some business cards. You will not find him on any review sites. All his work comes from word-of-mouth, prior clients, and some local property management companies. He is not fabulous at writing detailed contracts that spell out every single thing, but he gets shit done and at half the price of the other kitchen estimate we got. He shows up when he says he is going to and does his job with no drama. If you’re in the Chicago area, I am happy to pass along his contact info.

(as far as how we tested him out, the first job we hired him for was refinishing/repairing the kitchen floor in a condo we were preparing to put on the market. We then hired him for a few other smallish jobs - replacing a door, repainting exterior window trim, refinishing floors/repairing flooring around the radiators we removed) when we bought our house. The kitchen was a leap of faith but we are thrilled with how it came out.)

This is so kind, thank you! Unfortunately I’m not, but you’ve given me the idea to reach out to a real estate professional we know.

I found the best one (so far) by talking to my insurance agent. He sees a lot of them come and go, and knows which are providing the best results for his clients’ claims. I had months of repair work two years ago following a bad storm, and we were actually really pleased with the quality and timeliness of the work that was done. The GC handled almost everything.

Edit to add: Agent is independent, and we’ve known him for a long time. I can see situations where an insurance agent’s priorities might not align with the OPs.