The 411: Getting to Know Your Contractor
Knowing there are plenty of important questions you need to ask potential contractors isn’t a startling revelation to homeowners, but exactly which ones are crucial to the hiring process might be a bigger mystery.
We consulted our contracting experts to create the ultimate list of questions that will help homeowners learn everything they need to know to confidently choose who will make their home renovation dreams come true.
#1 “How long have you been in this business?”
Contracting businesses that have been in operation for many years have certainly worked through a lot of the growing pains that many companies deal with in their young years. While this is certainly true, some consumers may opt to go with someone who has years of experience in the industry but is a relatively new business owner.
If your instincts are telling you to go with a contractor who fits this category, consider starting them off with a smaller project. If after that you’re satisfied with his technical, service and business skills, you can both move on to something larger.
Do your research ahead of time on any contractor you’re thinking of working with. If you find anything that makes you worry, ask about it. Ultimately, contractors prefer that you voice your concerns, so they have an opportunity to address them rather than ignore them.
#2 “Do you have a contracting license?”
Cities, states and even counties have different requirements on whether contractors must obtain a license or an alternative credential. As a homeowner, you’ll want to make sure that yours has gone through all of the necessary channels to obtain any required certifications specific to their field of expertise — for example, you wouldn’t want to hire a roofer whose license is in carpentry. Having a business license alone is not enough, as it allows individuals to operate a business but doesn’t mean that they are a licensed or credentialed contractor.
This resource breaks down state requirements for working as a contractor, and if your state requires one, you can verify that a contractor is licensed using this site.
The state of Texas does not require general contractors to be licensed, but specific industry workers like electricians, plumbers and HVAC workers do need a license to operate.
#3 “Can I see your certificate of insurance?”
Asking a contractor if he’s insured isn’t as telling as seeing how he is insured. Contractors should at least have liability insurance specifically for the type of job they perform. In addition to insurance, some contractors can also have workers’ compensation, but this is not always required. Taking a look at certificates of insurance will give you the peace of mind that he’s not insured in an entirely different capacity than the job you’re hiring him for.
#4 “Will you obtain the permits and set up the inspections required for this job?”
Not every job requires permits or inspections, but most remodeling projects that in some way change the structure of the home do. Your contractor should not only know what kind of permits you need and how to get them but also be willing to pull them for you. However, some permits can only be accessed by the homeowner themselves.
#5 “What is our timeline for completion?”
It’s important for homeowners to have a clear picture of when contractors will start and complete a project and be aware of any circumstances that might affect that schedule. Here are a few additional questions that will further clarify your projected timeframe:
Are there any other projects you’re working on now that could affect our schedule?
Do you have any current bids that haven’t been finalized that could impact this job?
How will necessary changes to our timeline be addressed?
#6 “What is the payment schedule?”
The Better Business Bureau advises never paying for the full price of contracting work upfront, and a reputable contractor shouldn’t ask you to. But it’s important to discuss payment terms before construction begins and be aware of exactly how much is due and when, perhaps by specific dates or based on completed stages of the project.
#7 “Will I have a dedicated team working on my job?”
Contracting companies often work on multiple projects at a time, so it’s important to verify that you can count on consistency in who comes to work on your home each day. Be sure to ask these questions:
Will the same team be working on my home each day?
Who is the project manager, and what specifically will they oversee each day?
Do you work with subcontractors? If so, what have you done to properly qualify them, and are they covered by your liability and worker’s compensation insurance?
How often will the business owner check in on the progress of the project?
#8 “What way would you like me to get in touch with you?”
Not only do you need to have a designated point of contact, but you also need to know the best way to reach that person and at what times they’ll be available to respond to you. (Often, this is the business owner or the project manager for your home.) Find out if they prefer to be contacted via phone call, text message or email. Get their information and ask for a general timeframe that you should expect to hear back from him.
#9 “What is your working day like?”
It’s important for both homeowners and contractors to know what to expect on construction days before work begins, even if you don’t plan on being home while the work is being done. The targeted questions you’ll want to ask include:
What are the approximate start and end times for construction day(s)?
Do I need to remove any items that are in or near work areas?
What will the noise level be like?
Do you need me to be home at any point during the day?
You should also advise your contractor on key information about the project prior to your start date:
The parking situation in your neighborhood
Which restrooms, if any, are available for use
Where available power outlets are located
Who, if anyone, will be home during construction (including pets)
#10 “How will you clean up at the end of the day?”
A quality contractor will make sure that end-of-day clean-up is always taken care of by their crew, whether the project lasts one day or spans several weeks. Establish that they will remove trash (and learn where it will be disposed of), pick up stray items like nails from floors and outdoor areas and wipe down surfaces that have gotten dusty during construction at the end of every workday.
#11 “How and where will tools and materials be stored if the job spans multiple days?”
Part of keeping a clean, clutter-free workspace once the team has left for the day includes putting tools away. If they have large pieces of equipment they plan on storing in your home every evening, be sure to discuss where they will be kept and how they will be transported there. (You probably don’t want heavy items to be dragged across your hardwood floors on their way to the garage.)
#12 “What steps will you take to protect my property?”
This may be one of the toughest questions to ask your contractor simply for the fact that it may seem disrespectful. However, it’s an important one that you’ll need to ask in advance of construction.
Your contractor should be willing to take reasonable measures to protect your property, so be sure to ask what specifically he’ll do:
Will you use tarps to cover large furniture items and surfaces in work areas?
Will crew members wear shoe coverings when they enter my home?
Will you recommend items that I should move to other areas of my home to protect them from damage?
Will you close or lock doors as necessary when entering and leaving my home?
#13 “How will additional charges be dealt with?”
Thanks to technological advancements, contractors are able to give more accurate pricing than ever before. Still, home improvement can be unpredictable at times, and once a project is underway, it’s possible that circumstances will arise that increase the estimated price that was originally offered to you. It’s critical that your contractor be clear that he won’t spend a penny over your agreed-upon budget without first gaining your approval — and if you hire them, this should also be specified in your contract.
#14 “Is there a warranty for your service or for the materials you’ll be using?”
Most contractors offer a warranty or guarantee on their work, and it’s important to know ahead of time what it covers and how long it will remain in effect. Additionally, the materials used on your home may have a manufacturer’s warranty, and you should request a copy of this information before construction begins.
#15 “How do we resolve any disagreements?”
This is a crucial question because, unfortunately, mistakes and disagreements do sometimes occur despite the best intentions of contractors and homeowners. Asking a contractor how he handles disputes tells you that he has a process for taking care of situations in which clients aren’t fully satisfied.
An open dialogue helps ensure that both parties are staying on top of the project and are setting clear and reasonable expectations of how the project will go. At the end of the day, it’s in the contractor’s best interest to be honest and trustworthy because he wants you to recommend him to other potential clients.