Since early June I have been undergoing a massive remodel at my home. This certainly is not my first go at hiring contractors, picking out materials, dealing with the dust and the mess, but living through it is always torture. If you have ever wanted to knock out a wall or completely change your kitchen it’s extremely daunting and you will second guess your decisions constantly. Even the pros will tell you they have a vision and what actually happens is not always exactly as planned. This post is not meant to discourage you, it’s definitely meant to inspire you to do it. I hope that my experience helps you over come a fear or stop putting off making your space the dream house you want. No matter what you do, big or small job the devil is ALWAYS in the details. There is so much I could write about, but let’s break it down so it’s digestible to anyone regardless if they have ever done construction before or not. For today we will talk about some of the most important questions you should ask a potential contractor before you hire them.
Simple List of the Most Important Questions to Ask a Potential Contractor
- How long have you been doing these types of jobs/work?
- The best answer is long enough to provide you with either a portfolio or website with jobs they have done in the past. This doesn’t mean it’s a “no go” if a contractor doesn’t have this level of business tools, but if you didn’t get them recommended from a friend where you were able to see their work I wouldn’t take a chance on sight unseen. At the very least they should be able to provide you with a business card and some references you can call. There is always Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau too!! I use it a lot to check up on contractors.
Do you itemize your quote/bid?
This item is critical and precisely one of the reason the devil is in the details. As an example, when I recently hired a flooring contractor to install my floors he handed me a quote for roughly $4500. That was just to install my floors. It didn’t include the cost of the wood, the glue, the molding, the demo of my existing floors and the haul away and dump fees. So the actual price was $12,500. What he basically gave me was a bid for just labor. Having been down the construction road many times I knew to ask these questions, but not everyone will think of that and when the contractor comes to you wanting $600 for glue and $400 for the dump fees you might be pissed! Get it itemized to protect you from hidden costs and even better get a fixed cost bid. That means the contractor is not going to price gouge you for every little detail so you can assume little things like a box of nails are included.
How do you manage your schedule and who will be working at my house/business?
Many contractors will have several jobs going at once. Ask your contractor specifically for a estimate of time. You want to know what day they will arrive to start work, what time, how long is their work day, who will be at your house and when can you expect completion. Get an appropriate time frame in writing. Shit happens and it’s ok if they have an issue on another job and don’t meet the deadlines perfectly, especially if you are dealing with a one man contractor. However, if it’s a larger company you can reasonably expect someone should be managing your job every work day until it’s complete. You hear all too often that contractors get started and fall off the job. If you do your homework about their company (even if it’s small) you can have a reasonable expectation that the job will get done in the time frame quoted. Just make sure they give you days, dates etc in a written document.
Insurance Protection, Licensing and Bonding?
Many contractors have their contracting license to operate in the state they are working in and this is huge. I don’t care if your friend Sally’s brother used to be a plumber. I simply wouldn’t call him to do any work on my house because you are not protected. If Sally’s brother slips and falls and injuries himself guess who is paying his bills while he is laid up? YOU ARE because without those insurances and licenses you become the employer!!! Additionally, when you deal with a legit contractor with all the appropriate insurance and licensing you have just less worry about down the road. I realize there are many handy men/women out there that will do the job for far less money, but keep them to jobs that you can live with if they screw it up, do it wrong or don’t finish — such as something you yourself could do, but don’t want to or don’t have the time.
How will you protect the rest of my house while you work?
Seems like a daunting question? But honestly if you have a sloppy contractor then you end up with a huge mess and potentially broken items. Especially when you live in your house during construction. Dust gets EVERYWHERE — make sure they have clean drop cloths, they drape plastic over doorways and openings that are not part of the construction zone to minimize the dust getting on your furniture and belongs. The best protection is to box up and move your important things. A good contractor will tell you exactly how they prep and clean a job site before, during and after the work is done.
How do we handle a problem?
This question is open ended for a reason. You absolutely never know what will come up during a construction job. Many jobs go over without an issue, but too often things come up. The devil in the details that no matter how diligent you were with asking the right questions and getting what felt like reasonable answers how do you manage a problem? This is where you have to have your people feelers in check. If you find that the contractor just doesn’t feel like someone you can be around for 10 days while they work in your house keep getting bids until you find a person that you think you can deal with. However, regardless of personalities you need to ask these tough questions. Do you want everything in writing? Do you want to be able to text the job foreman about any issue you might have? If you need to change a material or a design spec how do we do that? These are all questions that should be discussed so you know what to expect from your contractor.
So these were a few that are my big ones. There are dozens of other simple questions and if a contractor is honest and wants your business they will be happy to answer them. Anyone that starts to show signs of being annoyed or doesn’t want to itemize the quote/bid is not someone you want to work with. I hope this helps you make a decision to move forward with a project or much wanted change to your house. Because when it’s all done and you get to watch the process it can be very exciting to see the changes and then bask in the beauty of your updated home!