Tell a family member or friend that you’re planning to get some work done on the house and it’s almost guaranteed (s)he will eventually tell you to “get three quotes” before you hire someone. It might be hackneyed advice, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good advice.

If you want to reduce the chances of getting burned by a contractor, always get a minimum of three quotes on any job that’s worth more than a couple of hundred dollars. If the job is going to be more than a couple of thousand dollars, consider getting more than three quotes.

Sure, it can be a bit of hassle getting those quotes, but if your goal is to get quality work at a reasonable price, then you need to do your homework. We can’t over-state that point.

So what should you be looking for in a quote? Well, the obvious answer is the bottom line (we know it’s the first place you look… we do too), but let’s get back to that shortly.

1. The first thing you want to check is that they’ve actually quoted you on the job that needs doing. Wires get crossed, so it’s important to make sure that you and the contractor are talking about the same project.

2. Next, see what kind of detail is in the quote. For instance, has the contractor listed the product brands to be used on the job? This is especially important if you’re expecting a certain product, so make sure it’s written right in the quote to avoid misunderstandings. After all, you don’t want to find out after the job is completed that the fancy toilet you thought you were getting is actually a standard floor model.

It’s important to ensure that each quote contains the same things, because if you’re not comparing apples to apples, it’s difficult to determine which quote is best.

3. Have a look at the kind of warranties and guarantees the company offers. Do the companies you’re considering stand behind their work? Do they offer a written guarantee?

4. It doesn’t hurt to investigate what kind of reputation the companies quoting have in the marketplace, and what kind of customer service they offer. The Better Business Bureau is a good place to start. An Internet search through a consumer review site like is another way to find out what former customers are thinking.

5. Make sure that the contractors you’re looking at are all licenced, bonded and insured. If they’re not, the playing field isn’t level and the quotes will reflect that. Contractors who aren’t properly established according to the law will generally charge less because their overhead is lower, but they’re also a danger to you, the consumer, because when things go wrong you’re the one on the hook.

6. Now, check the price. How much are they charging? When you have all your quotes in, check to see if any deviate significantly from the average. If any do, have a closer look. Assuming everyone is quoting the same job, check to see whether the contractor is so much higher or lower for a reason. Perhaps (s)he isn’t using the same information as everyone else.

7. Once you’ve narrowed things down to price point, it’s time to ask yourself a very important question – What is my gut saying?

This is especially important for bigger, more expensive projects. Assuming you’ve had a face-to-face with each contractor, what was your impression of the company? Professionalism, cleanliness, likeability… these are just some of the factors you might want to consider seeing as how these people will be coming into your home, often for days on end. If your gut is screaming, “No! No! No!” whatever the reason, then it’s probably a good idea to listen.

Most people can tell when the salesman is too slick, or something doesn’t feel right, so don’t let the bottom line or some quick patter be the only determining factors in your decision. Take your time and make a smart decision. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.