Remodeling Realities: Picking a General Contractor

This is the second post in a series called Remodeling Realities. We’re looking at all the moving parts of a home remodel, from how to choose an interior designer and general contractor to picking tile treatments and finishing touches. Read the last post in the series here and stay tuned for all of them!  

There are a lot of stories around how to pick a general contractor for home renovations, and many people share their nightmare scenarios online. This is a key position, so it is wise to choose carefully, do your research, and know what to look for. Finding someone competent and reliable is key.

Like the name suggests, a general contractor is a generalist, and you’ll want an experienced remodeling contractor whose knowledge of materials and methods has been gained by years on the job. General contractors often work hand in hand with an interior designer or architect to manage the construction of their designs.

In my years as a Dallas interior designer, I’ve worked with a large number of these professionals and had both good and bad experiences. I’ve learned a lot! Here are my tips for making this choice a successful one.

Ask around

Word of mouth is often a great way to find out about general contractors. Post on social media and seek recommendations. Ask relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues, even real estate agents, who they know. A trip to your local home improvement store is often a way to get a handful of names in one setting — employees (especially in the tool rental department) often have a lot of connections.

Go local

You want a general contractor who knows all the rules and regulations for your city and will get the right permits. Someone with experience in your area is a good bet.

Remodeling Realities: Picking a General Contractor | Interior Design Dallas | Barbara Gilbert Interiors

Check licenses, complaints, and litigation

Texas does not require general contractors to be licensed, only contractors doing specialty work like electricians, plumbers, HVAC contractors, landscapers, engineers, architects, and surveyors. If your contractor is doing any of this work, or hiring subcontractors for it, always check for an up-to-date license — you can find full information on exactly which types of contractors require a state license on the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation’s website.

The next step is to look at websites you trust that post ratings and reviews, like the Better Business Bureau. Look for many reviews, indicating years in the business, and patterns. Are people’s experiences similar, happy or not? Also take time to Google the contractor’s online reputation — search for the company name with words like “scam,” “rip-off,” “complaint,” or “lawsuit” after it. You might be surprised what you find.

I always recommend checking for membership in NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry). This shows a level of professionalism and credibility I want, as well as a standard of quality.

Make sure your general contractor is bonded and insured

A general contractor needs a Texas contractor license bond, and all contractors and subcontractors working within the State of Texas are also obliged to hold valid insurance covering their work. This includes Workers’ Compensation and Employer’s’ Liability Insurance, Commercial General Liability Insurance and Professional Liability Insurance. Contact your state or local licensing agencies to ensure the contractor meets all requirements.

Remodeling Realities: Picking a General Contractor | Interior Design Dallas | Barbara Gilbert Interiors

Look for consistency with subs

Your general contractor should generally be using the same subs over and over again — it means everybody is familiar with work standards, timeframes, and communication style. You stand a better chance of getting your work done on time this way and your general contractor is unlikely to be surprised by the quality of work received.

Get at least three quotes

Before you pick a general contractor, get at least three quotes from reputable professionals. Cost is, of course, a big factor, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Home renovations will affect your daily life for years, if not decades, and quality of work is the No. 1 consideration.

Remodeling Realities: Picking a General Contractor | Interior Design Dallas | Barbara Gilbert Interiors

Ask for references

Red flag if a general contractor can’t give you at least three former clients to call. Talk to all the references and take your time asking about what they liked and didn’t about working with this person. You’ll learn a lot about style and what to expect.

Get it all in writing

You want in writing the full scope of services, exact dates for payments, completion date, how they will protect furnishings, and the budget. This should be totally clear upfront, including if they will clean up every day before they leave.


Do you have advice on how to pick a general contractor? Tell us about it here or over on Facebook or Twitter (don’t forget to mention @bgidesigner)!

We’ve got years of experience creating inspired, gorgeous interiors — contact Barbara today at 214-641-7897 or via the website contact form. We offer DFW interior design services in Dallas, Plano, Frisco, McKinney, Allen, Highland Park, University Park, and many more parts of North Texas — please see the list of the areas we serve.

Here are the other 6 Remodeling Realities posts in case you missed them!

#7 – Add Style,Value with Home Gym

#6 – How to Choose Flooring

#5 – How to Have a Pet-friendly Home Remodel

#4 – 4 Things To Keep In Mind When Redesigning Your Kitchen

#3 – 5 Space Planning Tips for Good Home Design

#1 – How to Pick an Interior Designer