Rico León Breaks Down How To Find A Great General Contractor For Your Project - Exclusive

When shopping around for a general contractor to tackle your home renovation project, it's only natural to select a pro who says everything you want to hear regarding your optimistic budget and expectations for a quick turnaround. However, according to longtime client advocate Rico León — also the host of HGTV's "Rico to the Rescue" — too many promises can be a red flag.

"I'm East Coast. I'm more real and I tell the truth. Sometimes, homeowners don't choose me because I might not be the smoothest sales guy, but I tell them the good, the bad, and the ugly," León explained in an exclusive interview with House Digest. "Three months later when they signed with a guy who said all the things they wanted to hear, they call me back and say, 'I made a mistake.'"

So how can a homeowner get past the sweet talk and find out what a contractor is really about? A good starting point is delving into their past work. "Reputation's everything. The good old days of the strong handshake and 'I trust you' — those days are gone," León said. "Contractors need to have a social media presence. They have to show their work, because it's too easy to lie if you don't have those things. I want to see five-star reviews. I want to see happy people."

People are professional liars

But even if you're careful about checking into a contractor's past work, it's not a guarantee they're going to be a good fit — a good reputation is built on more than completed project photos. Just because a contractor keeps a glorious Instagram detailing 20 ongoing projects doesn't mean they're the right person for the job. "Please do due diligence ... ask them a million questions and ask for references and ask them how many projects they're working on right now," Rico León said. "If it's too many, assume they're all moving slowly and assume he or she's going to take money from your project to finish another one."

On the other hand, an ongoing project or two can potentially provide you with a wealth of information — if you're willing to take the initiative to do a little research. You'll get an even better picture of what it's like to work with a contractor if you can also source info from their past or current clients. "Look for their projects," León explained. "Be like, 'Are you working on something now? Do you have a place that you've worked on in the last nine months? Shoot me an address. I'd love to do a drive-by. Do you have any homeowners that I could meet in person and ask them a couple questions?'"

At the end of the day, however, a contractor's words are merely words. As someone who's been burned before, León advocates for a healthy degree of common sense. "There's a lot of questions that homeowners need to ask, but it's almost impossible to tell if they're good or bad, because people are professional liars," León mused. "People believe their own BS. They're like, 'I've been doing this for 30 years.' It's like, 'Well, dude, you're 41 years old. You started at the age of 11?'"

New episodes of "Rico to the Rescue" air Saturdays at 9:00 p.m. ET on HGTV.