There are three secrets to hiring the right builder or contractor for your project: homework, homework and homework.

Hiring a Contractor

The truth is, there is no substitute for getting referrals, checking backgrounds and seeing actual work, and then meeting with each potential contractor on your list. Here’s how to do it right.

Interviewing a contractor

After you’ve narrowed your list of potential contractors — but before you actually meet —you’ll need a list of questions to spur a good discussion. This will not only keep you informed, but also let your contractor know you’re invested in the project and care deeply about the outcome. Here are a few conversation starters.

How do you work with your customers on a daily basis?

He should discuss how he’d walk you through both process and progress on a regular basis, either verbally, in writing or both.

How do you handle misunderstandings or unforeseen problems when they arise on a job?

Remodeling can be stressful so you want to choose a contractor who is pleasant, responsive and committed to your satisfaction. Note his demeanor and body language when he responds to this question. Does he seem calm, levelheaded and easy to talk to?

How do you handle customer disputes?

Disputes will arise even with the best contractors. That’s why you’ll check the Better Business Bureau and state Attorney General’s office to find out about any past complaints before adding any contractor to your list! Once they pass that test, you’ll want to know the company’s written protocol for resolving disputes.

How often are your cost estimates on target?

Find out how often their overages exceed 10%, 20% or more. Ask if they ever come in under estimate. If a bid is exceedingly low, beware: a contractor who gives you a “lowball” bid to land the job should be avoided. Conversely, if a bid is extraordinarily high, it may be a means to ensure they won’t come in over budget; ask the contractor to explain the difference.

How long have you been doing remodeling projects like mine?

You want your contractor to have years of experience doing jobs just like yours. If your project includes vinyl siding, make sure the contractor is an experienced installer, preferably one certified by VSI.

What’s a realistic timetable for my project?

While delays are common, you want a contractor who is prepared, and can give you a realistic timetable for completion along with a plan to get the work done on time.

How would you rate the products you use on the job — top of the line, middle of the road, or less expensive?

Your project is only as good as the products used to construct it, and the skill of the craftsman who do the work. Make sure your contractor chooses durable, dependable, warranted products from established, well-known manufacturers.

Are you licensed, insured and bonded to protect my property and me?

The answer you want is “yes.”

Do you guarantee your work?

Never choose a company that won’t stand behind their work.

Have you attended continuing education programs, are you a member of any industry association, and do you hold any professional certifications?

This may seem like an invasive question, but it will tell you a lot about the contractor’s commitment to staying current with technologies, products and methods in a rapidly-changing industry. Likewise, a desire to be active in industry associations and keep certifications current speaks volumes about their credibility.