What questions should I ask potential contractors?

If you are considering a custom home, remodeling, or addition project chances are that you are doing some contractor interviews to find the right contractor to work with you. How you should approach this process can be particularly confusing, particularly if you’ve never hired a contractor to do a major project before. The folks at the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) help us to see the disconnect between the questions that should be asked and the ones that are asked most of the time by the consumer in evaluating contractors.

National Association of the Remodeling Industry has the following information.

What are the questions I should ask potential contractors?

NARI members share the short list of questions they are usually asked by homeowners and offer a list of questions that you should ask:

Timing and money are the most common questions a home improvement contractor hears, but during an interview with a homeowner when homeowners should be asking about credentials and verifying business practices what is often heard is, “When can you start? When will it be finished? How much will it cost?”

These simply aren’t enough. Yes, timing may be “everything” in comedy, but that certainly isn’t the case when it comes to remodeling. If you are going to have a successful remodeling project, you need to learn the right questions to ask and how to ask them.

When a group of NARI remodeling contractors were asked what questions homeowners asked most frequently, the group unanimously agreed that their most popular queries were:

  • When can you start?
  • When will you be finished?
  • What time will you knock on my door each morning?
  • What time will you quit for the day?
  • Are you going to work every day?
  • Can you finish before (insert any major holiday or significant family event)?
  • How much will it cost per square foot?

Unfortunately, these are not the type of questions that are going to tell you much about a particular contractor.

While a reasonable timetable and budget is important, it shouldn’t be the primary focus of an interview or a job. Homeowners should also focus on trust and quality.

Start by asking questions about a company’s business practices and experience in a similar type of project. If you decide you want to hire a particular remodeling contractor, then you can discuss when he or she can start, what time he or she can knock on your door each morning and when you will have your home to yourselves again.

Here are some questions NARI members recommend you ask before signing a remodeling contract:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job?
  • Who will be working on the project? Are they employees or subcontractors?
  • Does your company carry workers compensation and liability insurance? (Always verify this information by calling the agency. A copy of an insurance certificate does not let you know if the policy is still current. Even if the certificate has an expiration date. you cannot tell if the insurance has been canceled by either party. If licensing is required in your state also ask if the contractor is licensed and call to verify compliance with the law. Not all states offer or require licensing. Check with your local or state government agencies.)
  • What is your approach to a project such as this?
  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the past year?
  • May I have a list of reference from those projects?
  • May I have a list of business referrals or suppliers?
  • What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business?
  • Are you a member of a national trade association?
  • Have you or your employees been certified in remodeling or had any special training or education, such as earning a Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS) or Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC) or Certified Kitchen & Bath Remodeler (CKBR) designation?

It’s also important to realize that sometimes it’s not the answers you get that are significant, but what you don’t get. Asking the right questions is not enough. You need to pay attention to your instincts and to what information is missing.

Unlike your accountant or stockbroker, your remodeler will be a part of your daily life and available for some on-the-job education. He or she will be privy to your personal life, more so than your doctor or lawyer. Your contractor will know how you look early in the morning and how well behaved your dog is. It makes sense that you should take some time to carefully select this person and make sure that it is someone to whom you can ask questions.

Remodeling can be a fun experience. You get to create your dream room or home and learn a little about design and building along the way. All you need to do is ask questions. Questions that, according to NARI members, remodelers don’t feel that are getting enough of. So tap into your curiosity and ask away.

More information on the NARI site.

This article so closely mirrors my experience that it’s almost as if I wrote it. Over and over again we contractors hear questions about price, start dates, and time to finish from potential clients. These are all valid questions that need to be answered in time, but they should not be the determining factors in who to work with. I suggest that you make the initial meeting with any contractor into a job interview session where he/she is in the hot seat. Now more than ever it is important to ask as many questions as possible and only take specific answers. Don’t accept side-step answers that don’t really answer your question. The construction industry has gone through very hard times lately, and you do not want to get caught up with a contractor who is barely hanging on or who is attempting projects that he has no experience with. You have a right to ask as many questions as you like, and many of the suggested questions above are excellent ones that will tell you what kind of person/company you are dealing with. Once you do that and ascertain that this is the company for you, by all means ask the pricing and timing questions. Remodeling and building are very fun and exciting when you know that you’ve asked all the right questions and you’ve selected the best contractor for your project.

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