Hiring a contractor can be a nerve-wracking process, but being properly prepared can go a long way towards smoothing things out. Just like preparing for a job interview, the key is asking the right questions.
There are financial questions to ask, such as whether the contractor is licensed and insured and how they expect to be paid. Answers to other questions will reveal how they manage their projects and what level of experience they have. Ironing out other details, such as those that have to do with pulling permits and scheduling inspections, can give you genuine peace of mind. Having references and knowing what process a contractor follows to deliver a project on time will equip you to choose the right professional for you.
Here are some of the questions to ask a contractor before hiring them.
Trustworthy contractors will probably be willing to provide you with character references and testimonials. Many will even have a company website with a photo gallery and reviews. A word of caution, however, is that no matter what glowing references are provided, don’t skip the step of reaching out to the references in person. It’s understandable that the contractor will provide you with positive testimonials. It’s your responsibility to dig a little deeper to ensure you’re making the right choice.
Some contractors offer warranties on material and workmanship. This provides you with a guarantee you can use in the event something goes wrong. Be sure to check in to the details regarding:
Licensing requirements differ by state, county, and municipality, so you may have to do a little homework before asking this question. Additionally, some areas also require contractors to be certified in their specialties. Getting a clear answer to this question basically comes down to determining what your locality requires and then asking your contractor to provide proof of appropriate licensure.
Miscommunications, misunderstandings, and accidents happen. But there’s no need to be unnecessarily anxious about these possibilities if your contractor is bonded and insured. Don’t just accept a yes or no answer--ask to see their current certificate to determine what kind of insurance they have and whether or not it’s up-to-date and adequate.
No trustworthy contractor will ask you for all the money upfront. Depending on the size of the job, they may ask for a percentage upfront and the rest on completion, or they may work out a payment schedule by week or by phase. A good payment schedule does two things: it protects both the contractor and homeowner, and it helps to keep a job on schedule for completion.
This is a little different than asking for references or seeing a portfolio. The purpose of this question is to see how familiar they are with local codes and regulations and whether or not they have a working relationship with local authorities. It should also reveal the type and size of projects they are accustomed to taking on.
While you may feel a lot more comfortable if the contractor himself has a daily presence on the job site, the reality is that many qualified, trustworthy contractors are running multiple jobs simultaneously. If that is the case, determine if they will have a trusted foreman or rep supervise the job. Ask to meet that person also, since you’ll need to get a feel for how well you work together and communicate.
Even good contractors suffer from delays and deadlines, so if they are running various jobs at the same time, they may need to pull a team to another site for an “all hands on deck” scenario. But this should be the exception rather than the rule. You’ll want assurances that there is a dedicated, qualified team to keep your job on schedule so your life doesn’t suffer unnecessary interruptions.
There are two main issues to consider regarding materials—the quality and the cost. You may have heard stories of contractors who purchase substandard materials in order to save money, or those who come back later, after having agreed on a contract price, to say that they need more money. Having this conversation before you hire a contractor should give you a feel for their honesty and integrity, and even if you hire a relatively more “expensive” contractor, you may actually save money in the long run.
Some manufacturers offer courses contractors can take and provide them with certification once they've satisfied the requirements. Manufacturer-specific certifications are available for a range of products, from roofing systems to HVAC, and more. Getting a contractor with one of these certifications increases the likelihood of getting high-quality, long-lasting work.
This question will also help you to determine if your prospective contractor is familiar with local codes and regulations and has a good working relationship with local officials. But it will also lead to another conversation—are they including the cost and responsibility of permits in their contract price? Some homeowners have been surprised to find out that their contract places this in the hands of the homeowner.
Knowing the right contractor questions to ask at an interview starts with being well-prepared. Do your research and make notes of the things you need to know.
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