I usually ask for 25% down at contract signing, with payments in 25% increments.
it can really depend on what kind of job it is and what Materials need to be pre-ordered.
Be weary of contractors that need money up front to purchase materials to get started.
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Elizabeth Springs Redwood City, CA
A: Check your State "deposit: allowances
In California a contractor can only ask up to 10% or $1,000 which ever is more. UNLESS they have a showroom, then they can ask for up to 50%.