Questions To Ask Before Hiring A Contractor For Your Home Improvement Project
Hiring a qualified and trustworthy contractor is one of the most crucial elements of a successful home remodeling project. But finding one isn't easy. Sure, you can ask for recommendations from friends and neighbors, even check online for reviews, but once you’ve put together a list of companies, where do you go from there?
Your home is your haven and one of your biggest investments, so you want to ensure the quality and timeliness of the work. To make a sound decision on which company is the best fit for your project, here are some key questions you can use as a guide during the interview process.
1. How long have you been in this business/industry?
You'd want to get a sense of how much experience the company as a whole has with the work that needs to be done. A contracting business that has been in operation in the area for five or 10 years already has a local reputation to uphold and is more likely to have an established network of subcontractors and suppliers, which makes them a safer bet. They typically have a traceable record, and have created systems and controls to ensure their work is on time and of the highest quality.
But you don’t want to immediately shrug off a new company either, if the company owner or job foreman has years of experience working in the industry, either for other companies or as independent contractors. If you’re impressed with their credentials, you can start by hiring them first for a small repair to check their quality of work. Just remember to do your research ahead of time and verify the credentials of any contractor you’re considering hiring for the job.
2. Are you licensed and insured?
Aside from knowing their years of experience in the industry, you'll want to make sure that your contractor has gone through all of the necessary certifications to handle the job. And having a business license alone isn’t enough, as it only allows them to operate a business, but it doesn’t guarantee that they are licensed.
A reputable contractor should have any required state license, workers’ compensation insurance, and liability insurance for the type of work they do. Moreso, they should have that documentation on hand and be more than willing to let you take a look. Regulations may vary from state to state and even county to county, so this is a good question to ask to learn more about the contractor and your state’s specific requirements. Doing so will give you peace of mind knowing that they are licensed and certified in their field of expertise.
3. Who is the designated point of contact and how would you like me to get in touch?
Whether it's the company owner, a project manager, or the job foreman, be sure that you identify a designated point of contact, as well as the best way to reach that person. Ask what times he’ll be available to respond to you, and how quickly you should expect a reply. Remember that communication is necessary for a positive and less stressful remodeling experience, so establishing a defined process with the contractor’s team is critical.
4. Will you obtain the necessary permits and set up the required inspections for the job?
While not every home improvement project requires permits or inspections, it's a must for large jobs, such as major renovations and anything that involves structural changes. A dependable contractor should not only know what kind of permits you need for the job and how to get them, but they should also be willing to arrange them on your behalf. No work should begin until the permit has been obtained to ensure everything is done to code and your homeowner's insurance can cover your claim if something goes wrong.
5. Who exactly will be doing the work?
Since contracting companies often work on multiple projects at a time, it's important to know if they have the workforce to complete the job on time. You should be clear on whether the contractor and their employees will be doing the work or if they’ll be using subcontractors to carry out the project. If they’re using services from another company, you need to know which business they’ve partnered with and who is liable for the work being done, and if the workers are also covered by their liability and worker’s compensation insurance.
Also, clarify whether you can expect to see the same people working on your house to handle the job from start to finish. It’s essential that you can be assured about the consistency of the work, and that you can trust the people you will be working with at all stages of the process.
6. What precautions will you take to protect my property?
While this may be a touchy topic, asking in advance is necessary. Your contractor should be willing to take reasonable measures to keep your property and belongings damage-free. Depending on the scope of work, be sure to inquire about what specifically he'll do. Are the workers going to wear shoe coverings when they enter the home? Will they use tarps to cover furniture items and surfaces in work areas? They should also be able to recommend certain items that need to be moved to other areas of the house to avoid damage. Moreover, a good contractor will make sure that the end-of-day and end-of-project clean-up is always taken care of.
7. What will be the payment terms and schedule?
Another important detail to discuss with your prospective contractor is the payment terms. You should be aware beforehand of exactly how much is due and when. Payments can be organized by due dates or based on completed stages of the project. Be honest and ask what happens if you are late or need more time to make a payment, as well as the available payment methods.
One thing you need to remember is that a reliable contractor should never ask you to completely pay upfront. Cash payments are impossible to track and are often requested only by questionable contractors. Safer options include checks, loan financing, and credit cards.