Key questions to ask a potential contractor
In my last post, I suggested some ways to evaluate your contractor based on the way they carry themselves, communicate their expertise and represent their business. In part two of this three part series, I’ll take you through some important details to ask about before deciding you’ve found “the one.”
When working with a contractor, it’s important to ask good follow-up questions. These help protect you and keep your project running efficiently.
About their business
- Do they have proof of insurance? Liability insurance is very affordable and easy to obtain and protects them as much as it protects you.
- Do they carry workers compensation on their employees? Workers compensation (WC) can be expensive. Personally, it is my single largest expense in business, but it’s nonnegotiable. If my employee gets hurt working at your house and I don’t have WC, you, the homeowner, may be open to liability. This is a must-have before you hire. A lot of contractors try to get around the WC issue by classifying their workers as subcontractors. It’s dishonest and not the correct way to do business, so keep an eye out for that as well.
- Will they provide you with a copy of insurance for each employee? Ask for copies of insurance for everyone who walks onto your property. If they don’t have a WC policy, do not let them work on your property.
- Do they use subcontractors or do they have their own employees? In light of the above entry, reputable companies will only use subs for specialty work (electric, plumbing). If a contractor uses all subs, ask why.
- What trade associations do they belong to? Are they involved in the local Home Builders Association? What certifications do they (or the company overall) have (e.g., RRP (Renovation, Repair and Paint) certifications with the EPA, Vinyl Siding Institute, etc.)? Are they OSHA compliant and have they taken any OSHA safety courses?
About your project
- Have they ever done projects like this before? If so, how long ago and where? Can they provide you with names and numbers of past clients? What current projects do they have underway? Can you drive by and look at some of those? If you do, note the condition of the project.
- When will they be starting this project? If they say right away, that is another red flag. Either you are really lucky and found an open slot in their schedule or there is a reason they aren’t busy, and it’s likely not a positive one.
- How long do they estimate the project will take? Does their answer seem reasonable? If it’s a roofing project and they estimate 2–3 days, then that seems reasonable. If it’s a complete home remodel and they estimate 2 weeks, then that may be unrealistic. If you’re unsure if the time frame is reasonable, ask about similar projects they’ve done and the timeline those took.
About your money
- How long will it take to get an estimate back? If it takes a really long time, they may not be organized or interested. What format will you receive the estimate in (print, digital, in-person, email)?
- How do they normally work the payment terms? Are they asking for a large portion upfront? That’s a huge red flag. Paying a large amount up front is how homeowners get taken advantage of. In my company, we do progress-completion payments. Once we complete a certain aspect of the project, we get a check for that portion.
- How are changes to the scope of work handled? Staying on budget is crucial, which means constant communication is a must. If a large change or hidden defect was found in the house that required a substantial cost, we may need to reevaluate the final finishing choices to stay on budget. I have yet to complete a remodel (or even a new construction project) where we haven’t had several changes to the initial plans, so be sure that the contractor will provide written estimates for all changes, so there aren’t any surprises.
In the final post in this series, I’ll share some important questions to ask yourself about your contractor. These last few questions will help quell any lingering concerns and ensure you’re set up for construction success.