By Julia Clem and Jennifer Karami
Despite the wealth of information available at our fingertips 24/7, finding a good contractor for your next home improvement endeavor isn’t always easy. Your home is your haven and your most significant financial investment, after all—you don’t want to give just anyone access to it, and you want the work done right the first time.Not quite sure what questions to ask your potential contractor? You’ve come to the right place!
Sure, you can ask friends and neighbors for contractor recommendations, but once you’ve put together a list of companies, where do you go from there? How can you ensure that the company you hire is the best fit for your project?
One of the best ways to put your mind at ease is to start your search for a contractor with an established third-party organization that rates and recommends home service providers. Beginning with a list of verified, high-quality companies is less overwhelming than starting from scratch, but you should always thoroughly interview each contractor you consider.
Check out our list of seven important questions to ask contractors, and then stick around to the end for four communication tips to help you and your contractor stay on the same page through the entire project.
Questions to Ask Home Improvement Contractors
When you interview home service providers, be sure to compare apples to apples. A low price for a given service may be attractive, but if the company isn’t licensed or expects you to handle permit applications for the work, you aren’t getting the better deal.
Ask the following questions of each home improvement contractor you interview to help you hire the right company:
1. When did you start working in this industry? When was your company founded?
Get a sense of how much experience both the company owner or job foreman and the company as a whole have with the work you need to be done. And don’t immediately write off a relatively new company—if the staff has plenty of experience working in the industry, perhaps for other companies or as independent contractors, you probably won’t encounter major problems.
That being said, do exercise caution with brand-new companies. Getting a contracting business up and running is no small feat, and you may experience some hiccups while the team members learn to communicate and work together. If you’re impressed by a newly established roofing company, for example, your best bet may be to hire them first for a small repair rather than a full replacement. You might also ask for references to confirm the quality of the work.
2. May I see your certificate of insurance?
You’ll be able to verify most state-required licenses online, but a valid general liability (and workers’ compensation, if required by your state) can be more difficult to check. A reputable contractor will have that documentation on hand and be more than willing to let you take a look.
3. Who is my primary point of contact during the job?
Be sure that you know who to contact with any questions or concerns. Typically, this is a project manager or job foreman; sometimes, it’s the company owner. Ask how that person prefers to be contacted and how quickly you should expect a reply.
4. Will you do all the necessary work to ensure the completed project meets local codes?
Large jobs, such as major renovations and structural additions, usually involve permits and inspections. Your contractor should not rely on you to apply for the right permits and schedule the necessary inspections; all of this should be done by the company. Work that is not correctly permitted or inspected can cause major (and majorly expensive) headaches down the road, especially if you try to sell your house.
5. Who will be doing the work?
You should be clear on whether the contractor uses subcontractors or company employees on the payroll as well as whether you can expect to see the same people working on your house every day. Most home service providers have several crews that allow the company to take on more than one job at a time, so be sure to clarify whether the same team will handle your job from start to finish.
If the company you hire uses subcontractors, ask for the subcontractor’s business information. The subcontracted company must hold valid general liability and, if applicable, workers’ compensation insurance as well as state-required licenses for the work they perform. Your contractor should be able to explain to you how they vet their subcontractors.
6. How will you ensure my home and yard won’t be damaged?
Your contractor should be proactive about taking steps to keep your property damage-free. Depending on the work being done, this may involve having workers wear shoe covers, using plastic sheeting to control dust levels in the house, covering flooring with a protective material, or protecting landscaping with tarps.
7. How will we handle payment?
You need to know how much the total project will cost, the payment types your contractor expects, and the intervals at which you’ll need to make payments.
For most larger projects, an initial down payment—typically one-third to one-half of the total project cost—isn’t unusual. Some contractors request payment at the project’s halfway mark and the final payment upon completion of the work, while others ask you to pay the remaining balance only once the project is finished.
Another important detail to clarify with your contractor is how any changes to the job cost or budget will be handled. Be honest and upfront as to whether your budget has any wiggle room and how you’d like the company to communicate any additional expenses that arise.
Conversations about money and business practices can be a bit awkward, but your contractor should not be surprised or offended by your questions. Good contractors will view you as a partner in the job and will be thrilled at the opportunity to share information and put you at ease.
Communication Tips for a Smooth Home Improvement Project
Keep these communication tips in mind as you interact with contractors—and remember: If you’re not comfortable talking with a home service provider, either because of personality differences or other reasons, you may need to continue your search. Lack of communication is at the root of many of the issues homeowners experience with home service providers. While your contractor should be proactive about alerting you to any issues that arise with the job’s timeline, cost, and other details, remember that you’ll also need to do your part in speaking up about any special requests you might have or if you notice a problem with the work.
1. Voice your requests and expectations.
If you have specific requests or expectations, tell your contractor as soon as possible. The best way to ensure that your message gets through is to talk to your contractor in person, and then follow up your conversation with a text message or email summarizing the discussion.
2. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
Before work begins and throughout your project, make sure that you and your partner are up to date on what the crew will do, the approximate timeline, and any requests that either you or your partner have made. This will help avoid job delays and misunderstandings between you, your partner, and the crew.
3. Establish a regular check-in cadence before the job begins.
Having a day each week, for example, when you can expect an update from your contractor can help prevent miscommunication. Talk to your contractor about the best medium for this update—some contractors may prefer to give you a quick call, while others may send you an email or a text message.
4. Pause the work if communication breaks down.
If miscommunication (or complete lack of communication) with your contractor or the crew begins to impact the job or cause you extra stress, don’t be afraid to request a halt to the work. Take the time to meet with your contractor in person to clear up any misunderstandings and get everyone back on the same page. While this temporary detour might be frustrating for everyone involved, it’s far better to address issues as they arise instead of waiting until the project is finished.
The Bottom Line
Home maintenance and renovation projects make your house more efficient, functional, and comfortable, and they can increase its market value significantly. Hiring the right contractor is one of the best ways to ensure that your home is taken care of and that the work is done correctly.
Use the questions and tips above to help you through the (sometimes overwhelming) contractor interview process. And don’t forget to listen to your intuition—if you get a particularly bad or good feeling from a company or individual, pay attention to that. Once the job begins, communicate openly and frequently with your contractor. Reputable contractors want happy customers, and staying in the loop is key to a satisfactory outcome for everyone involved.
Julia Clem is part of the marketing team at Best Pick Reports. Best Pick Reports utilizes consumer satisfaction research to evaluate the performance of home service providers, such as plumbers, roofers, and painters, in metro areas across the US. After compiling surveys from thousands of homeowners who have had direct experience with local service companies, Best Pick Reports connects top-rated companies with their ideal customers by promoting them in its annual publication, website, and mobile app.