Stop! Ask these Questions Before Hiring a Contractor

You’re about to undertake a HUGE home improvement project and you know you need to hire the right contractor to make it happen. Choosing the right contractor can be a daunting task. It can make or break your design and mistakes can cost lots of time and money. So we’ve broken it down for you: Here are the questions we hear all the time and the questions you SHOULD be asking when it comes to hiring the right contractor for the job.

Scheduling Questions

Q. When can the contractor start and do they have enough resources/bandwidth to commit to your job?

There’s nothing worse than working with a contractor who is too busy to properly handle your job and manage the resources. Make sure that the contractor you are considering hiring has the bandwidth to dedicate teams and time to your project. Being in demand is a wonderful thing, but being too busy can delay your project and frustrate you. And trust us when we say, there are almost always delays. Although there should be a written schedule, be prepared to be flexible, in construction- anything can and usually does take longer than you think it will. Some typical delays include: Items getting stuck in customs, sub-contractors falling ill or going out of business; You could open a wall only to discover none of it was built to code and you have to rebuild the entire thing. Permits and the city inspectors add another layer of uncertainty.

Q. What hours will you work?

Hours will depend on the what the city allows by law. If you work outside of those hours and you get caught, the city can fine you and shut down your job.

Q. Who will be at the job site? Who do I call with questions?

Different days bring different demands. Some days the site will be full and bustling. On other days the site will be in a holding pattern and no one will be there. You contractor wants to complete your job as much as you do, so don’t worry if you don’t see people on the job, it’s normal. The key here is to have a schedule of what will be happening, our firm gives them to clients on Fridays for the following week. If the schedule and the activity start to deviate a lot, it’s time to ask questions.

Key Advice: Be patient and trust your team. They’ve been through this and can communicate what is happening and why and when.

Q. What are the stages of the job?

  1. Design 2. Permits 3. Order Materials 4.Demo 5. Rough Construction 6 Installation of Finish materials 6 Punch list 7 Payment in full 8. Lien (This topic deserves it’s own dedicated guide — so stay tuned we’ll publish one next week!)

Q. Does the contractor see any potential problem areas in your project?

If someone tells you nothing will go wrong, run! Hire someone else immediately. Something always goes wrong in construction and the best defensive is a good offense. If your contractor can think on their feet and feels confident problem solving, they will work it out. Ask them what the most challenging aspect of a past project has been, and how they worked through the challenge. Have they ever worked on the problems they see occurring at your project?

The Contractor, The Person

Q. Do you like this person?

You’re going to be spending a lot of money and time with the contractor. It’s important to feel comfortable with them. They should be someone who “speaks your language.” When they explain things, it should be easy for you to understand. Always start by asking yourself a simple question, “do I like this person?”

Q. Has the contractor attended any type of formal training or continuing education?

Although an academic program is not required and someone with years of field experience can do a phenomenal job, it’s an added bonus if a contractor has more formal education. Our principal contractor, for example, has completed a program in Construction Management from the University of Houston College of Technology and an ASID ReGreen certification. He regularly attends design build seminars, trade shows, and events to stay up to date on codes, trends, technology, building materials, and management techniques. Being deeply immersed in the field gives you a more well rounded and experienced partner in your construction project and can help you rest-assured that you’re in good hands.

Q. How will you communicate with me?

It’s important to decide on the way you will communicate before you begin working. You want to stay informed, but you don’t want to drive your contractor crazy. After each weekly meeting, our firm follows up with an email record of the notes from the meeting. We also like to correspond through text or email so there is a record of what was asked and promised. Quick telephone calls have a way of falling through the cracks or one of the parties not remembering correctly.

Q. Has the contractor been involved with any legal disputes following a previous job?

The answer to this question is probably yes and that’s ok. In a construction dispute, EVERYONE who worked on the job gets called into a lawsuit, whether or not they were responsible. The most important thing here is that your contractor has a valid insurance policy to cover any claims that might arise. Referring back to the contract throughout the process and having a clear understanding of expectations helps to make sure the project stays out of litigation.

Q. Has the contractor previously operated as a contractor under a different name?

If so, ask the contractor to explain why.

Q. Does the contractor plan to work on the project personally or assign a supervisor?

Either a contractor or a dedicated supervisor should be assigned to your project and you should have contact information for both. Before the project begins have a clear understanding of the process and who does what.

Q. How will you protect my property?

Remember that many trades with many different people will be on your site. A sub-contractor could bring someone onto your site that no one has ever met, that’s the nature of the business. When a contractor tells you a locked storage on site or warehouse off-site is necessary, take their advice. If you have something valuable treat it that way and make sure you protect it. Once an area has been completed or finish materials have been installed, your contractor must provide heavy cover to protect from other construction that is still happening on the site. The site should be cleaned, broom swept, at the end of each day and there should never be trash outside of a designated

Q. What is the guarantee or warranty?

Most contractors will guarantee against defective materials and workmanship problems. Most municipalities and states require a minimum period to warranty and address the work a contractor or their subs have performed. If something goes wrong, call your contractor first. Allow them the opportunity to address the issue. If you bring in other subs or workers to address the issue, you risk voiding your warranty.

Q. How do I reach you after hours?

Unless there is an emergency on site, like a broken pipe or a gas leak, you should contact your contractor during business hours that were agreed upon in your contract. However if there is an emergency that must be handled immediately your contractor should provide a contact number to call. If you’re wondering if it’s actually an emergency or not, a good rule of thumb is that it should look something like the aftermath of the plane crash from War of the Worlds:

Q. How often should I be updated on progress?

It’s a good idea to touch base at least once a week with your design and contract team. Throughout the process you may need to be involved more or less depending on what is happening. Communication is key and a weekly schedule helps you understand what and when things are happening.

Q. Who meets with the inspectors?

The general contractor meets with the inspectors and is responsible for setting up the appointments and making sure they or someone from their team is on site to walk the job with the inspector.

Q. Do I need a contract and what should I include in it?

A contract is a good communication tool to make your project run as smoothly as possible, as it is a written understanding of what is expected from each side. It should be referred to throughout the process. Common contracts include elements like: a detailed work scope, line items for materials, the cost, and a termination clause. Any special requests, concerns or agreements should be written in the contract.

Q. How much do contractor’s require as a down payment?

Sometimes contractors charge as little as $1,000, the maximum by their state law, and up to 10% of the estimated contract to be retained. (We’ll write a separate post that goes into more detail, stay tuned!)

Q. Does the contractor need a design or plans? And if I don’t have them, can the contractor do it for me?

It is always best to have a set of plans before you begin working on a project. A set of plans is a road map to success. A contractor can help you put together a set of plans with the help of a draftsperson, a designer, an architect, or a structural engineer. If a contractor says they don’t need plans, hire someone else!

 Q. What is the management style for your team?

You’ll want to know how the contractor works with their team. Is there a weekly meeting for each job. Are the subs given an up to date schedule each week so they know when they are expected to perform. More successful and sophisticated firms have scheduling programs that allow everyone to see where things are at any given time. Our firm uses UDA construction.

After the Build is Completed

Q. Does the contractor stay up to date on trends?

A great contractor will know a lot about current trends and timeless design styles. You can tell a lot about the contractor’s knowledge when you look through the portfolio. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they stay on top of the latest design trends and materials, oftentimes this is through regularly attending design trade shows and events and keeping up on continuing education.

Q. Do I need to let the contractor take pictures at the end of the job?

It’s a nice thing to do. Your contractor is proud of what they’ve done and will use your project to market to other clients. You also get professionally shot images of your home that you can share with friends and family on social media and use if you ever want to sell the house. If you ever wanted to rent your home out for a vacation rental or a commercial or movie set, you’ll have great photos!

Q. Should I give my contractor a review when the job is complete?

Chances are, part of the reason you selected the contractor is because you read great reviews about other client’s experiences. If you liked your contractor, it’s a generous thing to do. Reviews also help you because they eliminate the contractor’s potential clients from needing to call you as a referral.

 

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