Knowing what questions to ask a contractor is a key first step to helping reduce the chances of having problems with your contractor down the road. If you do enough vetting and truly find someone you like I always say stick with them, pay them quickly on the agreed upon price and do not try to nickel and dime them to death.
If the contractor is annoyed by these questions, then I suggest you move on. There are plenty of fish in the sea.
1. Are they licensed and insured?
While this may seem like an obvious one, you’ll need to do some double checking. Always make sure they are TRULY licensed and insured. In my market (Cincinnati), you do not need to be licensed as a GC unless you are dealing with plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. You have to be registered with the individual cities in order to apply for a permit. Many contractors will say they are “licensed” when what they actually have is an “occupational license” which anyone can get and an “occupational license” is not a state “contractor’s license”. Be sure to get their license number and then check it with you state licensing board to make sure it is real, if there have been any complaints against their license and if the license is current and active.
Always make sure the contractor has a general liability policy as well so you are not held liable for any injuries or if the property is damaged.
2. Do they carry a warranty on your work?
This one seems to be hit or miss if they do, industry standard seems to be for 1 year. If the contractor is not willing the stand behind his or her work than that is a big red flag to me and makes me question if they do good work. They know that if they do good work they will not have to come back out at all.
3. Do they have references?
Always ask for references, but the problem with this is it is very easy to offer you 3 references and they could be the only 3 references that liked the contractor or the three they know will give them a good review. I always ask for their last three projects. If there is a big gap in between their references without a good reason, like having a kid, then I move on. I also ask to see any pictures of previous work they have done.
A great strategy is to actually go inspect their work which they recently completed or are in the process of doing. As long as you know what “signs of quality” to look for, you can quickly determine the quality of work they do before you hire them and find out the hard way.
4. How long have they been in business?
This one is misleading because the company could be new but the contractor's experience could be 10 years. So I would always follow up with how long have you been doing this kind of work. The more experience they have the easier the process will be for you.
5. Ask about permitting, inspection process, suppliers and sub-contractors
Ask questions about every detail of the work such as who supplies materials, obtains permits, contacts the architects, and ensures the municipality in doing the inspections when needed.
This can all be handled by your GC and should be handled by your GC with emailing you updates every step of the way, if a week has gone by with no update then an email should be sent saying there is no update because that is still an update. The only thing a GC cannot handle is setting up draw inspections with lenders, that should be laid out in the beginning and the owner being notified when that draw inspections can take place, preferably scheduled 1 week ahead of when it should take place.
Also check who they will hire as subcontractors. This could be subs such as an electrician, plumber, ac guy, drywall crew, ceiling texture crew, painter, flooring guy and so on.
6. What jobs are you working on currently that could affect mine?
A GC should never schedule a start date unless they are sure that they will have the manpower to take on all jobs. If they have a lot of jobs currently going they should be upfront that and they should schedule the remodel to take place when one of their jobs is complete. You should always have at least two people on your job on a daily basis.
7. Do you provide lien waivers upon payment?
A GC should have no problem providing you a lien waiver upon receipt of payment for a set phase of the scope of work. For instance, the overall scope of work can be broken down into categories that are done on a weekly bases and when payment has been received a waiver is signed for the mini-scope of work.
8. What ways do you communicate?
For me, I like to communicate by email mostly unless it is an urgent matter the contractor needs to discuss with me. I prefer email because those quick question phone calls can easily turn into a 30-minute conversation. I also like emails because I can reference them later.
9. Do you have an end of workday procedure?
This is very important because this can make or break a project. The end of workday procedure should include how to secure all materials, tools, and the premises. The premises should have all doors and windows locked, all flammable liquids stored in a fire approved container, the heat should be turned up to or down to the appropriate temperature, a light should be left on in at least one room to give the appearance the house is occupied.
10. How will unexpected items be dealt with?
This is always a tricky thing to deal with, I like to deal with what could come up so it isn’t a complete surprise. Such as I like the GC to tell me that by opening the wall up he could find that it is out of code and the cost would then turn into a different number. I like to know that number so I can plan accordingly. All the big issues can be discussed before they are found.
So there are 10 questions you should ask your contractors in order to vet them properly and begin the working relationship on the right road. If any red flag is thrown then I would walk away from that contractor. Hopefully, these 10 questions will help prevent you from getting burned by a contractor and ensuring your project is done correctly, finished on time, and on budget. What questions do you like to ask your contractor?