Knowing there are plenty of important questions you need to ask potential contractors isn’t a startling revelation to homeowners, but exactly which ones are crucial to the hiring process might be a bigger mystery
“Customers who ask questions are our favorite customers! They’re prepared, and they’ve done their homework. They’re ready.”
So said Ariel Istueta, Director of Marketing for Istueta Roofing in Miami.
“It keeps me on my toes when people have a ton of questions,” agreed Craig Gouker, Manager of Craig Gouker Roofing in Pittsburgh.
Knowing there are plenty of important questions you need to ask potential contractors isn’t a startling revelation to homeowners, but exactly which ones are crucial to the hiring process might be a bigger mystery. Handyman.com consulted contracting experts to create the ultimate list of questions that will help homeowners learn everything they need to know in order to confidently choose who will make their home improvement dreams come true.
#1 “How long have you been in this business?”
Contracting businesses that have been in operation for many years have certainly worked through a lot of the growing pains that many companies deal with in their fledgling years.
“Companies with experience have created systems and controls to ensure their work is on time, on budget and of the highest quality,” said Ken Kelly, President of Kelly Roofing in Naples, Florida.
While this is certainly true, some consumers may opt to go with someone who has years of experience in the industry but is a relatively new business owner.
“Most home improvement business owners were in the trade at some point before starting their business,” Ron Hall, Sales Manager of Russell Roofing in Philadelphia, noted, “so they have technical experience.”
If your instincts are telling you to go with a contractor who fits this bill, consider starting him off with a smaller project. If after that you’re satisfied with his technical, service and business skills, you can both move on to something larger.
Do your research ahead of time on any contractor you’re thinking of working with. If you find anything that makes you worry, ask about it. Ultimately, contractors prefer that you voice your concerns so they have an opportunity to address them rather than take them out of the running.
#2 “Do you have a contracting license?”
Cities, states and even counties have different requirements on whether contractors must obtain a license or an alternative credential. As a homeowner, you’ll want to make sure that yours has gone through all of the necessary channels to obtain any required certifications specific to their field of expertise — for example, you wouldn’t want to hire a roofer whose license is in carpentry. Having a business license alone is not enough, as it allows individuals to operate a business but doesn’t mean that they are a licensed or credentialed contractor.
#3 “Can I see your certificate of insurance?”
Asking a contractor if he’s insured isn’t as telling as seeing how he is insured. Contractors should have both workers’ compensation and liability insurance specifically for the type of job they perform. Taking a look at certificates of insurance will give you the peace of mind that he’s not insured in an entirely different capacity than the job you’re hiring him for.
#4 “Will you obtain the permits and set up the inspections required for this job?”
Not every job requires permits or inspections, but most remodeling projects that in some way change the structure of the home do. Your contractor should not only know what kind of permits you need and how to get them, but also be willing to pull them for you.
#5 “What is our timeline for completion?”
It’s important for homeowners to have a clear picture of when contractors will start and complete a project, and be aware of any circumstances that might affect that schedule. Here are a few additional questions that will further clarify your projected timeframe:
- Are there any other projects you’re working on now that could affect our schedule?
- Do you have any current bids that haven’t been finalized that could impact this job?
- How will necessary changes to our timeline be addressed?
#6 “What is the payment schedule?”
The Better Business Bureau advises never paying for the full price of contracting work upfront, and a reputable contractor shouldn’t ask you to. But it’s important to discuss payment terms before construction begins, and be aware of exactly how much is due and when, perhaps by specific dates or based on completed stages of the project.
#7 “Will I have a dedicated team working on my job?”
Contracting companies often work on multiple projects at a time, so it’s important to verify that you can count on consistency in who comes to work on your home each day. Be sure to ask these questions:
- Will the same team be working on my home each day?
- Who is the project manager, and what specifically will he oversee each day?
- Do you work with subcontractors? If so, what have you done to properly qualify them, and are they covered by your liability and worker’s compensation insurance?
- How often will the business owner check in on the progress of the project?
#8 “What way would you like me to get in touch with you?”
Not only do you need to have a designated point of contact, but you also need to know the best way to reach that person, and at what times he’ll be available to respond to you. (Often, this is the business owner or the project manager for your home.) Find out if he prefers to be contacted via phone call, text message or email, get his information, and ask for a general timeframe that you should expect to hear back from him.
#9 “What is your working day like?”
It’s important for both homeowners and contractors to know what to expect on construction days before work begins, even if you don’t plan on being home while the work is being done. The targeted questions you’ll want to ask include:
- What are the approximate start and end times for construction day(s)?
- Do I need to remove any items that are in or near work areas?
- What will the noise level be like?
- Do you need me to be home at any point during the day?
You should also advise your contractor on key information about the project prior to your start date:
- The parking situation in your neighborhood
- Which restrooms, if any, are available for use
- Where available power outlets are located
- Who, if anyone, will be home during construction (including pets)
#10 “How will you clean up at the end of the day?”
A quality contractor will make sure that end-of-day clean-up is always taken care of by his crew, whether the project lasts one day or spans several weeks. Establish that he will remove trash (and learn where it will be disposed of), pick up stray items like nails from floors and outdoor areas, and wipe down surfaces that have gotten dusty during construction at the end of every work day.
#11 “How and where will tools and materials be stored if the job spans multiple days?”
Part of keeping a clean, clutter-free workspace once the team has left for the day includes putting tools away. If they have large pieces of equipment they plan on storing in your home every evening, be sure to discuss where they will be kept and how they will be transported there. (You probably don’t want heavy items to be dragged across your hardwood floors on their way to the garage.)
#12 “What steps will you take to protect my property?”
This may be one of the toughest questions to ask your contractor simply for the fact that it may seem disrespectful. However, it’s an important one that you’ll need to ask in advance of construction.
Your contractor should be willing to take reasonable measures to protect your property, so be sure to ask what specifically he’ll do:
- Will you use tarps to cover large furniture items and surfaces in work areas?
- Will crew members wear shoe coverings when they enter my home?
- Will you recommend items that I should move to other areas of my home to protect them from damage?
- Will you close or lock doors as necessary when entering and leaving my home?
#13 “How will additional charges be dealt with?”
Thanks to technology advancements, contractors are able to give more accurate pricing than ever before.
For example, Bill Hippard, owner of Mid America Metal Roofing in St. Louis, uses iRoofing.org to provide his clients high-quality project presentations using the app’s measurement feature, which utilizes satellite data for accuracy.
“It allows me to easily estimate a roofing job and provide a professional presentation to the homeowner,” he said.
Still, home improvement can be unpredictable at times, and once a project is underway, it’s possible that circumstances will arise that increase the estimated price that was originally offered to you. It’s critical that your contractor be clear that he won’t spend a penny over your agreed-upon budget without first gaining your approval — and if you hire him, this should also be specified in your contract.
#14 “Is there a warranty for your service or for the materials you’ll be using?”
Most contractors offer a warranty or guarantee on their work, and it’s important to know ahead of time what it covers and how long it will remain in effect. Additionally, the materials used on your home may have a manufacturer’s warranty, and you should request a copy of this information before construction begins.
#15 “How do we resolve any disagreements?”
This is a crucial question because, unfortunately, mistakes and disagreements do sometimes occur despite the best intentions of contractors and homeowners. Asking a contractor how he handles disputes tells you that he has a process for taking care of situations in which clients aren’t fully satisfied.
“Little issues do come up,” Gouker said. “If you can, research how problems were handled and how the customer felt after it was resolved.”
If your contractor admits that there has been a dispute or two in his past, this isn’t necessarily a red flag so long as he treated the situation respectfully.
“When disputes happen, give the contractor the opportunity to fix it,” suggested Kelly.
This may seem like a hefty list, but communication between contractors and homeowners is key. You should also be prepared for contractors to have their own list of questions to ask you.
“A contractor that asks questions is trying to uncover what you really want, but one that just nods and agrees with anything you say is not. They’re not really diagnosing the problem and getting to the heart of what you need,” Istueta said.
An open dialogue helps ensure that both parties are staying on top of the project, and are setting clear and reasonable expectations of how the project will go.
“Customers and contractors both have to be fair with one another, and your expectations have to be realistic,” Gouker noted.
At the end of the day, it’s in the contractor’s best interest to be honest and trustworthy because he wants you to recommend him to other potential clients.
“We go to market by having raving fans and having customers that glow about us,” Hall said. “To be stable, you need repeat business from customers. Happy customers provide that.”