For many homeowners, the return of warm weather also marks the start of renovation season. Are you preparing for a small project? A full remodel? Either way, we’ve got a handy list of questions to ask before hiring your next contractor. You’re about to make an important investment, and entrust your home to a stranger. It’s best to forge this new relationship with confidence, and open communication. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll come up with a few questions to broach with your new builder which we haven’t covered here. If so, don’t be shy about asking! To get started, here are our top dozen questions to ask when hiring a contractor:
1. How many years have you been in business?
Ask how and when your contractor got into business. It usually takes a mix of skill and technical training to run a construction business well. Make sure know the full scope of services that are available. Do they have any specialties? For example, if you know you’ll need someone skilled with roofing, masonry, flooring, or electrical, ask about similar past projects they’ve completed.
2. Can you provide a copy of your Business License and Proof of Liability Insurance?
To avoid any personal financial or legal risk, it’s absolutely necessary to hire someone without proper accreditation and insurance. A professional contractor will readily provide a copy of their license, business liability insurance, and Workers’ Compensation coverage.
3. Are you willing to provide references from suppliers and past clients?
Ask to speak with at least three former clients. See how satisfied they are now with the workmanship provided. Learn as much as you can about how their project was managed. Was the work on time and on budget? As you might imagine, your contractor will usually connect you with happy customers. In order to dig a little deeper, speak to a long-term supplier. If you can verify that the contractor paid his bills on time, this serves as an excellent indicator of stability and professionalism. A contractor should never take issue with providing references. If they do, consider that interview complete, and move on.
4. Who purchases materials?
Speaking of suppliers, verify that your contractor will be supplying all necessary materials, and is willing to put in writing which type and quality of supplies will be used.
5. Have you obtained permits in my area?
Depending on the nature of your project, you may need a permit to proceed. Confirm that your contractor will take out the permit for you. Ideally, they have successfully obtained the same type of permit in your area before. If so, they should be prepared for any complexities and location-specific challenges that may arise.
6. Do you use subcontractors, and if so, how long have you worked together?
If the answer is yes, ask how long they’ve been working together and verify that any subcontractors have relevant licenses too. Find out how many subcontractors will be needed for your job, and ask whether your contractor will be on site with them or not–you’ll want to know exactly who will be at your home, and when.
7. What happens if you encounter something unexpected? How do you communicate additional charges?
If the crew encounters an unexpected challenge that changes the scope or nature of your project, what will the protocol be? Will there be a detailed discussion and options to review together before additional costs apply?
8. What’s your estimated timeline for completing this work? Can you put that in writing?
An essential aspect of quoting for any job is estimating the timeframe for completing the work. Before proceeding with a formal agreement, make sure your contractor is ready to commit to your timeline in writing.
9. What warranty do you provide for services and materials?
You’re dealing with a professional if they’re willing to give you a written warranty in the case of a problem or defect. When you speak with those past-client references, be sure to ask how their warranty agreement has held up. If they needed follow-up service, was it prompt, or a lengthy, drawn-out process?
10. Can I visit the job site of a current client?
Seeing an active job site tends to offer much more insight than a phone reference ever could. The very fact that the contractor has a client willing to let you visit is a good start. Once there, observe how well organized and clean the site is. This should provide a preview of what their work will look like in and around your home.
11. What payment schedule will we use?
Establish methods of payment and key milestones. If you proceed to make a hire, make sure you get these specifics in writing.
12. Can I get a written contract?
If the answer is no, then you’ve got all the information you need. It’s absolutely necessary to get a written contract detailing your agreement before hiring a contractor. Without one, you don’t have any legal proof that the terms you discussed with the contractor were actually agreed to by both parties. Proof is a must-have. If the contractor confirms using subcontractors, ask for a lien waiver exchange. The purpose of a lien waiver is to make sure you’re not left financially responsible if your contractor neglects to pay the workers. Before signing your contract, we strongly recommend seeking the expertise of a lawyer. The risks and obligations outlined in your contract need to be balanced between both you and the contractor. A lawyer in the best position to evaluate whether this is the case. If not, they can also guide you towards negotiating a better arrangement.