Although you might be a spontaneous person, jumping into hiring a deck builder is not a good idea. Adding a deck to your home is a significant investment, and care should be taken when choosing a contractor to perform the work.
Lay the Proper Foundation
Before you begin calling for estimates, there are several things that you should do to standardize the selection process so that you are comparing "apples to apples" when making your ultimate decision.
What are the specifications for your project?
Before gathering estimates, make sure that you choose the location, size, material, and any other "extras" that you may want to include in your project. Type up these specifications and provide them to each contractor that you interview/ask for an estimate.
When do you want the project completed?
Some contractors may provide seasonal discounts if you want to build your deck during the off-season. Make sure you provide your timeline to all potential contractors.
What type of contractor do you want to use?
General contractors — Although general contractors can do the work, check their projects’ portfolio and steer clear if they do not have examples of decks that they have built. Deck Carpenters — typically your best bet, unless your projects are for one of the specialty building types on this list. Pool Deck Builders or Patio Pros, Balcony Builders, Roof Deck Contractors, and Composite Decking/Trex Installers round out the list of contractor types.
Determine what HOA rules/local building permit requirements are needed
If your project requires HOA approval, you, as the homeowner, will be responsible for getting that approval before construction. Learning what permits are needed will help you vet the potential contractors.
Prepare your list of interview questions
Ask for references, pictures, proof of licenses, general liability insurance, and workman's compensation insurance. Check with the local planning and zoning office to see if they have a good reputation and the Better Business Bureau. Plus, any other questions tailored to your unique project.
Begin Your Search
Start by asking friends, family, and co-workers for recommendations. These should be deck built by the installer, not some brother's, cousin's, friend type recommendation. Keep these recommendations strictly professional.
Vet the recommendation by going online to their website to review their past projects. If they do not have a website, steer clear, as this could be a sign of shoddy craft.
Another source for leads is online websites like Angie's List or Home Advisor. These sites have an advantage over single contractor sites in that they provide you with multiple options, ratings, and reviews from former customers. They will often be able to provide you with ballpark estimates for your project.
Before you resort to a general Google search, see if there is an upcoming home or trade show in your area. Again, these are great places to find multiple contractors to interview and get estimates in one place.
Narrow the Field
Submit your requirements and interview various contractors when requesting estimates. Make sure to give them a reasonable deadline for getting back to you. If they cannot get you an estimate on time, it is unlikely they will complete your project on time.
Red Flags to Avoid
Here are some red flags to avoid when hiring a deck builder. Do not choose a contractor who does not provide proof of licensing, general liability, and workers' compensation insurance. Do not select a contractor that applies "pressure" to decide on the spot or ask for a cash deposit. Furthermore, do not choose a contractor who is unwilling to apply for and obtain the necessary building permits.