One of the important parts of a home renovation is finding the right person or team for the job. We discuss the must-ask questions and common mistakes made when choosing a contractor.
You have your inspiration ready and are itching to get started on your new project, but where can you go to find help? You know that they should have the right skills for the job and are efficient, dependable, and trustworthy. But how do you find out?
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Before You Search
Before contacting any contractor you must first do your homework. Not only on the contractor, but your project. You must know your budget, timeline, and basic project scope before you start interviewing. After all, how is the contractor supposed to bid correctly if you don’t know what you want. Also, this will help to ensure you are asking the right questions during your interview.
Ensure you are ready to start interviewing contractors by reviewing the basics to starting your project:
Finding a Contractor
Referrals are often the best way to find a contractor. Family, friends, and coworkers may have already done the initial legwork for you and, presumably, like the work that they have done. You can ask candid questions about dependability and workmanship as well as possibly see their work in person.
This doesn’t mean that you still shouldn’t do your own homework. Check online reviews, if available, and ask your friend if they know of others that have used them. Be particularly cautious if the person being referred is a friend or family member of the person doing the referring.
We advise interviewing the recommended contractor as well as at least two others. You might find another contractor that is a better fit for your project in the process.
There are many different sites that you can visit offering searches for local contractors. HomeAdvisor.com , Porch.com, Angieslist.com, and Houzz.com all have lists of contractors in your given area as well as ratings listed by former clients. Some sites are better than others at screening for legitimate reviews so it might be best to check your contractor choice on several sites. There may be a membership fee for some of these sites.
Amazon Home Services: This is a great way to go if you have a small project, like installing new flooring, or if you are DIY’ing the majority of your project, but don’t feel quite comfortable with basic plumbing, electrical, etc. The best part is that the contractors are already vetted by Amazon and you have their backing if any issues arise.
Here are some must-ask questions:
- Have they done projects like yours before?
- Are they licensed, bonded, and insured for your type of project and in your area? DO NOT hire a contractor without proof of these. This will protect you as well as your home.
- How long have they been in business?
- Check Better Business Bureau and local courts for both the company and contractors name.
- Do they have any references? Even better, projects that you can see or photos of their work? You should be able to speak to at least a couple of past clients. Be a good neighbor and allow future homeowners to contact you as well if you are happy with your project.
- What is their availability? Don’t be surprised if they are not available right away. A good contractor is often busy with referral projects and worth the wait.
- What is the warranty on their work? How are any issues handled? This would also be a great question to ask their references.
- Will they be managing several large projects at once, or will you be their main priority. If they have many projects, make sure you meet the foreman for your particular project. If there will not be one on site, for a large project like a kitchen remodel, this may not be advised.
- How much of the work will be performed by them? Is any work to be completed by subcontractors? Subcontractors are those hired by your contractor to perform certain parts of the job. For example, your contractor might hire an electrician to complete the electrical work. Be sure to check for licensing of the subcontractors as well.
- What is their estimated timeline for completion? Is he/she willing to give you daily project updates? Be aware if one contractor’s estimate sounds too good to be true compared to your other estimates. Find out more about timeline expectations here.
- Will the contractor be pulling permits? Check ahead of time for required permits in your area. DO NOT trust a contractor that makes you pull permits yourself or tells you that you really don’t need them. You may have trouble selling your home in the future if work has been done without the required permits.
- What kind of space do they need on the property? Will they have a dumpster or truck parked on site? Will they need an adjacent room cleared? Do they need outdoor or garage space for cutting, etc? Do you need to provide restroom access or will they provide a port-o-potty for their workers? Will this be worked into the estimate? Be reasonable here and understand that your home will be a job site. They will need space to perform the more dusty and dirty parts of the job. Make sure to discuss expectations as to how often these areas will be cleaned and how often trash is hauled away. It is very reasonable to ask that trash not be left in the yard overnight, but they will probably not vacuum wood shavings, etc. nightly.
- Are they excited about your project and your vision for the space? Do they seem like they would work well with you and/or your designer to make your dream come true?
- What hours will they be working? Ask about expectations about job site access. Keep in mind, you should feel comfortable enough leaving a key. Otherwise, you will need to be there to let them in and secure the home, not only in the morning and evening, but for lunch as well. This is usually not feasible as times may change depending on the job progress and subcontractors.
- What will be provided in their estimate? Will they provide basic materials such as shims, screws, and caulk? Will there be a contingency fund worked into the budget for these items? How will change orders be handled? It is a good idea to ask these kinds of questions while interviewing contractors, but you still must get these details in writing upon hiring them. A good contractor will have a very detailed contract laying out what is included in the contract and what is expected to be paid for by the homeowner. All needed materials should be accounted for in the contract as well as the expectation set for the unforeseen. Read more about budgeting for these expenses here.
- What is their expectation for payment? Don’t be surprised to pay for major materials, such as kitchen cabinets, as they are ordered. If you feel more comfortable, you might ask to make arrangements to pay the supplier directly for these items. Better contractors will usually handle all costs up front, but plan a payment schedule as the job progresses. For example, 10% of the estimate up front, then the cabinet costs and 10% of labor is due two days after the delivery of the cabinets. Never pay 100% of the cost up front and always ask for receipts for the materials and lien releases from the subcontractors as those portions of the job are completed. This is your way of knowing that the subcontractors and materials were paid for and there aren’t any liens against your home when the project is completed. Final payment should only be made AFTER all final punch list items are completed.
Any contractor worth doing business with should be more than willing to answer these questions. Use your best judgement and stay away from those that you get an uneasy feeling about. After all, this is your money and your home.
Doing your own research and planning up front can make the difference in your whole project. Do you possibly want to spend the next several months, or even years, dealing with the consequences when you could have spent a couple extra hours of research up front? It may be tough to set the time aside now, when you are itching to get started, but your choice in contractor can make or break your whole project.