So, you’ve been inspired by the home renovation shows and you now have grand plans to remodel a certain area of the house. Whether it be a beautiful new kitchen where you visualize yourself cooking away like Martha Stewart or soaking in the tub of your new Balinese inspired bathroom, the prospect of a fresh new space in your home is exciting, but how do you make this dream a reality? Where do you even start?
If you have not renovated or remodeled before and your DIY home improvement ability is limited to painting a wall and replacing lightbulbs (and that’s okay because we can’t all be like Chip and Jo from Fixer Upper), it’s hard to know where to begin. Firstly, you need a home renovation contractor to do all the hard work for you. Let’s face it, who’s got the time to obtain licenses and permits, hire and manage subcontractors, order materials (and the right amount), and on top of all of this, take time off work to manage the project? Not many. So, you need a home renovations contractor, but how do you go about recruiting one, a good one?
Asking effective, clear and qualifying questions is what will help you select the right contractor for your project. You need to politely interrogate and investigate. After all, this is your home that you’ve invested your hard-earned cash into, so you don’t want to spend any more money fixing problems created by bad contractors. Many homeowners feel nervous about asking home improvement contractors ‘stupid’ and forensic questions, especially if this is your first time hiring. But the truth is, home improvement contractors respect and are more responsive to customers who are inquisitive. It means that the homeowner has done their homework and knows exactly what they want, and they can’t pull the wool over your eyes!
Top-tier professional contractors prefer customers who ask well thought out, qualifying questions as it establishes a clear understanding of what you, the homeowner wants and forces the contractor to be honest about what they can deliver.
So, if you think you are being nagging, remember the more questions answered, the more piece of mind you will have and the better the final outcome. That said, you could ask a million questions – all of which seem important. Unfortunately, a busy contractor doesn’t have all day to answer your questions and not all questions are effective in the hiring stage. You will need to sieve through your list of questions and prioritize only those that will help you learn more about the contractor and their quality of workmanship. Below are some questions to get you started and make you look professional and informed.
And don’t worry about writing down the questions, we’ve included a convenient free downloadable form at the end of this article that you can use as a guide when speaking to contractors.
How Long Have You Been in Business?
Home improvement companies that have been established for a long time have an advantage over newbies in the industry. They have a lot of experience with a range of projects and challenges which gives them invaluable knowledge and skills on how to best approach your project, especially if it’s complicated. Time in the industry equips a veteran company with controls and systems that ensure projects are completed on time, within the set budget and without compromising on quality.
You may also encounter contractors who have experience in the industry but have just recently set up their business. If you choose to hire such a contractor, it would be in your best interest not to dive in head first. Start them off with a small project to rate their service, technical ability and business skills. If you are satisfied with the delivery, you can hire them for a bigger project.
Are You Licensed?
Different cities and states have varying requirements regarding contractor licensing. To ensure your project is being carried out by a professional, you want to make sure that the contractor you hire has all the relevant certifications that are specific to the service they offer. This means that you should not hire a roofing contractor with a carpentry license.
Having a business license is not enough. This license only means that the contractor is free to open and run a business and it does not assure you of the contractor’s actual skills. The internet is laden with websites that breakdown licensing requirements by state. Look up what your city, state or country needs and verify that your contractor has the relevant certifications by asking to see them. If you are uncomfortable about asking to see proof, there are websites that list all licensed contractors, so you can use these sites to do due diligence and verify things yourself. It’s a bit of homework but it could save you a lot of money and legal headaches!
If you are in the US, HomeAdvisor.com have a great page where you can find the licensing requirements for your state. Check it out here.
Are You Insured?
It is not enough to ask your contractor if they are insured. You need to specifically ask about what kind of insurance they have. Before choosing a contractor, ask for documentation proving they are Licensed, Bonded, and Insured and double check it is up to date.
- Licensed Contractors –Have been granted a trade license in accordance to the state and local laws.
- Bonded Contractors– Have a contract with a private bond issuer, who will reimburse people financially on behalf of the contractor if the work is unsatisfactory and causes financial loss.
- Insured Contractors – There are usually two types of insurance:
- Liability — This insurance is paid if the contractor’s work causes any property damage and injuries. It does not usually compensate for the cost of repairs or replacements; however the bond should cover this.
- Workers’ Compensation — This insurance covers any workers that are injured on the job due to an accident, resulting in lost wages and medical bills.
You should ensure the contractor you hire is licensed, bonded, and insured. Ask to see documentation proof of all three and verify each of them yourself. Check out Angie’s List website on how to verify a contractor.
Will You Acquire Permits and Perform the Necessary Inspections?
Not all jobs require the acquisition of permits. But if your remodeling project will alter the structure of your home no matter how small, you will need a permit and inspection. The contractor you hire should have all the permits required and/or know how to get them quickly. In addition, as part of their service, should they want to take on your project, they should be willing to get these for you.
Estimated Time of Completion
Before commencing the project, you need to have a deadline for when the project should be completed, negotiated with the contractor. While you should both work towards meeting these deadlines, more often than not, circumstances tend to pop up that push these deadlines back. I.e. delay in suppliers delivering materials or bad weather if it’s an external project. To try and minimize the impact of the delays, here are some questions you can ask your home improvement contractor:
- Are you involved in another project that could potentially affect you working on my project?
- Do you have current and pending bids whose finalization could affect this project?
- How will timeframe changes to the project be handled?
What Is the Mode of Payment?
Homeowners are advised never to pay in full for a project before its completion- a reputable and professional contractor would usually never ask you to anyway. It is imperative that you discuss the terms and mode of payment before you hire the contractor. It is common to make incremental payment either when reaching project milestones or on specific dates.
Will I have a Team Dedicated to The Project?
Reputable contractors are in demand and they handle numerous clients and projects simultaneously. As such, it is essential to check if the contractor and their team will be the same people who will see the project through from start to finish. You want to make sure your project is given the attention it deserves, and not become just another small contract. To make sure of this, below are some questions to ask.
- Will I have the same team working on the project on a daily basis?
- Do you subcontract? If yes, what are the measures you will take to guarantee quality? Also, are the subcontractors covered by your insurance plan?
- Who will manage the project? And what exactly will they oversee?
- How often will the owner of the business check in and note the project’s progress?
What is the Best Way to Get in Touch with you?
It is important to know your contact person and you should also know the easiest way to reach them and at what times. Your project manager is usually a busy person, so inquire about a general timeframe within which you should expect to get a response. It’s best to have a conversation on the phone and follow it up by email summarizing what was discussed. This way you have documented the conversation in writing should anything be disputed in the future. If you can’t get through to the project manager, follow up with an email and text message. This will create a sense of urgency and keep you and your project top of mind!
Making a hire is not easy, especially if you haven’t hired a contractor before and the project is significant. As a homeowner, it is your responsibility to ensure that you have gone through this rigorous checklist to ensure you are clear about the services the contractor will offer. Your questioning will also make the contractor aware of your expectations for the project. Essentially, there should be no gray areas or red flags, if you are unsure, ASK!