I love getting questions from readers! This week, I was talking to a reader about how he was going to hire a contractor and didn’t know what questions to ask. So, for today’s Friday Five, five questions to ask when hiring a contractor.
Five Questions to Ask When Hiring a Contractor:
(1) Are you licensed and insured?
When you undertake a renovation or project, you want to make sure your contractor is licensed and insured. That way, you know you are hiring someone who knows the relevant building codes and requirements, and is covered in case of a problem.
(2) Have you done this kind of project before?
When hiring a contractor, you want to make sure that he or she knows what he/she is doing. Make sure that the contractor has done the type of project you want done before.
Don’t just take their word for it: To find out, ask if the contractor has a website. Often the site lists and shows pictures from other projects done by the contractor. You can also Google the contractor’s name and see if any information pops up that way.
If you have a historical home or a home in a historic district, you want to make sure that the contractor is familiar with historical regulations for your area and for potential problems that can arise with older homes.
If you want to find out if the contractor has had issues (or glowing reviews!) in the past, you can check the Better Business Bureau website, or sites like Angie’s List or HomeAdvisor.
And, on a related note, you should ask…
(3) Do you have references I could call?
Contractors from whom I’ve received estimates or plans have a list of references whom I could call to ask about working with the contractor. Call more than one; you want to make sure you get a good sampling of information about the contractor.
(4) Is everything included on the estimate?
When we were planning our bathroom renovation at the First House, three contractors gave us estimates for the job. It was a little like the three bears: one was way low, one was way high, and one was just right.
For the estimate that was way low, I noticed that there were certain things missing on that estimate that were included on the other estimates. For example, the fee for the dumpster, permitting charges, and other charges were not on the low estimate.
When I asked the contractor, he said, “Oh yeah! I forgot to include those.”
Right. Didn’t hire him.
Make sure that you get more than one estimate and then compare them to make sure that everything’s included on the estimate. When in doubt, ask!
(5) Go with your gut.
At the end of the day, you have to be comfortable with the contractor you’re hiring. Someone can give you a great estimate, but if your gut tells you you don’t like the contractor, you’ll stress during the renovation.
When I first met the contractor who now has been our contractor for 15+ years, his design-build firm was bidding on the bathroom renovation mentioned above. His estimate wasn’t the lowest, and it wasn’t the highest, but it was complete and I felt most comfortable with that contractor. It was a gut feeling, but based on the thoroughness and consideration expressed during our meetings.
Bonus questions to ask:
- How will you contact me if you aren’t coming to work on a particular day? This is a big thing for me: a lot of why I love our contractor is that, if he or his subcontractors can’t come work on a particular day, he calls me in the morning to let me know. Then I’m not sitting around waiting for anyone to show up when they aren’t going to.
- Do you have a list or group of subcontractors with whom you usually work? This is important because you want to know that the subcontractors doing work on the job are ones the contractor knows and trusts.
- Ask anything particular to your wants or preferences. For example, when we had a retaining wall built in our backyard, I required that the contractor and subcontractors close the gate when they were coming and going. Such a small thing, but not when you have a really fast labrador retriever. This could be anything: from wearing shoe covers in your house to using a particular subcontractor to using only no-VOC paint. Don’t hesitate to ask if it’s important to you.
What would you add to this list? What do you think is important to ask a potential contractor?