There are limits on what you can request as a deposit. Check the laws in your state for the exact limits. In California, contractors are prohibited from asking for a deposit of more than 10% of the contract price or $1,000, whichever is less.
You’ve heard the horror stories about “tradesmen” asking for a 50% deposit and then skipping town with the money. Don’t be mistaken for one of these people. If you have to request a deposit, even if you’re not a contractor, follow the contractor laws for your state. Following this rule will increase your credibility and increase your chances of getting referrals.
I have chosen to never ask a customer to pay for materials in advance. I charge all of my purchases on an air miles visa card. This gives me thirty days to pay and a free round trip ticket when it comes time for a vacation. If you can, do the same.
If you don’t have the available credit and the job has a large materials requirement there are solutions. Have the homeowner buy the materials so that they are on hand when you arrive. You can also go to the store together and let the homeowner choose and purchase the materials. Handled this way, the homeowner will know that they are paying nothing but cost for the materials and you will have stayed within the law. Don’t ask for a large deposit.