How to Hire a Good Contractor

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


A good contractor is the key to a good home repair project.  In planning for the project, follow these steps to hire a trustworthy contractor:

Check references: 

Before you sign a contract or pay any money, ask people you know and trust who they have hired for their projects and whether they were satisfied. 

  • Request local references from the contractor and contact them. 
  • Check on complaints with the Attorney General’s Office (888-777-4590) .
  • Check the Better Business Bureau’s complaint database at
  • Check to see if a contractor has been sued or filed a lawsuit -
  • Check on a contractor’s registration and bonding, go to:contractor registration
  • Talk to the contractor for more than a few minutes.
    • Ask for a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance certificate.
    • Be wary of a person or company not listed in the local telephone directory.
    • Be wary of contractor who provides only a post office box address and not a street address.

Get several written estimates, or bids.

Be sure the written estimates include everything you want done, and not more than you want. 

  • Don’t just look for low bids. 
  • Ask if the low bidder is really experienced enough to do the job.
  • Consider whether the contractor is cutting corners with materials or workmanship.
  • There could be a risk the contractor will come back to you later with a story and demand more money.

When you choose a contractor, get the contract in writing, and read it before you sign it. 

Before work begins, agree on a written contract.

  • Make sure you list all terms including:
    • The work to be done,
    • The brand and/or certain kind of materials to be used,
    • The price,
    • Which of you is responsible to get permits and schedule inspections,
    • All change orders must be in writing,
    • Who is responsible for cleanup,
    • Start and completion dates,
    • Remedies if the contractor fails to meet the terms. 
      • (Example: the contract could be void if the contractor doesn't start on time.) 
  • If you file an insurance claim to cover the costs of damages, negotiate the details with your insurance company directly and not through a contractor. 
  • If you sign a contract somewhere other than the contractor's regular place of business (like your home), you have three business days to cancel the contract without penalty.

Avoid paying large sums or the entire job up-front. 

If you need to make a partial advanced payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor.

  • Make sure you have a “mechanic’s lien waiver.”
  • This can help in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor. 
  • You can search to see who may have claimed the right to place a lien on your house through the Iowa Secretary of State website at: or by calling (515) 281-5204. 
  • Do not pay the contractor in full until you are sure all the parties listed on the website have been paid in full. 
  • Try to limit the amount you pay up-front.

Compare your financing options.

It’s usually safer and a better deal to obtain financing through your local bank or credit union, rather than a contractor. 

  • Do some loan shopping and compare loan terms, and don’t let anyone pressure you into signing a loan document. 
  • Don’t deed your property to anyone.

Watch for contracting scams. 

Don’t fall for the contractor who shows up in an unmarked vehicle without your calling. 

  • If a person says your driveway needs repaving, or your house needs new shingles and they “just happen to have materials left over” at a big discount, use caution.

To file a complaint or get more information, contact the Iowa Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Bldg., Des Moines, IA 50319. Call 515-281-5926, or outside Des Moines call toll-free at 888-777-4590. The website is:

If you are having problems, you may wish to call Iowa Legal Aid.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 
Last Review and Update: Oct 03, 2022
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