Selecting the right general contractor for your construction or renovation project is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. The contractor you choose will be responsible for turning your vision into reality and managing virtually all aspects of your build. Asking the right questions upfront ensures you find someone qualified, reputable, and able to meet your needs. This guide covers the key questions every homeowner should ask potential contractors before signing on the dotted line.
Overview of Contractor Selection Process
Choosing a general contractor typically involves these steps:
- Determine your project scope, requirements and budget
- Research local contractors and read reviews
- Shortlist 3-5 contractors to interview and get quotes
- Ask critical questions to assess contractors (see below)
- Verify licenses and insurance
- Check references and visit examples of past work
- Negotiate contract and finalize pricing
- Select best contractor and sign contract
Thoroughly vetting contractors before hiring using the strategies above helps you avoid potentially disastrous situations down the road.
9 Crucial Questions to Ask Contractors
Discuss these important topics with all contractors you’re considering for the job to identify the best fit:
1. What qualifications and experience do you have?
Look for 5+ years of experience successfully completing projects similar to yours. Verify proper licensing for your state and locality. Ask about their training credentials and specializations.
2. May I have a list of recent client references to contact?
Reputable contractors will gladly provide references. Speaking with previous clients gives insight into their quality of work, timeliness, communication style, and how they handle challenges.
3. Are you bonded and insured? What coverages do you carry?
Never hire uninsured contractors – it puts you at huge financial risk. Require both general liability insurance and workers comp policies. Ask for proof by getting certificates showing coverages.
4. How many other projects will you be managing while working on mine?
Too many concurrent projects can stretch resources and delay timelines. Ideally, look for contractors focused on your job primarily.
5. What is your approach for managing safety and protecting my property during work?
Look for clear safety protocols and concern for home protection during construction. A lack of focus in these areas is a red flag.
6. How much involvement/communication with me do you provide during projects?
Seek contractors who are very communicative and encourage client involvement. Beware those who are difficult to reach or want zero homeowner involvement.
7. What is your change order process if I modify the project scope mid-stream?
A solid change order process ensures additions/modifications are fairly priced and don’t cause overruns. A lack of one signals disorganization.
8. How do you handle disputes if they arise during a project?
All contractors should use clear dispute resolution processes like mediation to avoid lawsuits. Walk away from any who require signing liability waivers upfront.
9. Can you provide a detailed work schedule and draw milestone payments?
Reputable contractors provide clear timelines and structured payment schedules tied to progress milestones, not arbitrary installments.
Evaluating Contractor Responses
Gauge contractors’ responses to these crucial questions using the following guidelines:
- Quickly provides requested insurance certificates
- Has multiple glowing references reporting quality work and communication
- Discloses other limited projects not drawing focus from yours
- Articulates safety protocols and property protection details
- Structured change order and dispute processes
- Detailed milestone schedule and structured, fair payment terms
Potential Red Flags
- Unwilling or unable to provide insurance certificates
- No references or poor reviews
- Overbooked across too many concurrent projects
- Vague or no safety/protection plans
- Requires signing liability waivers
- Cannot explain change order or dispute processes
- Requests large upfront payments
Using these warning signs and positive indicators will help you compare contractors and determine the best fit for your project’s needs and your work style.
Additional Questions to Consider Asking
Beyond the critical questions above, some other topics homeowners may want to inquire about include:
- What strategies and tools do you use for managing schedules and budgets? Look for thorough tracking practices.
- How long have you worked with the subcontractors you use? Consistent subs indicate an established network.
- Will you pull all necessary permits for the project? Most general contractors handle permitting.
- What sustainability practices do you employ? Look for eco-friendly waste management, energy efficiency knowledge, etc.
- Do you offer a warranty on work performed? Many contractors offer 1-2 year construction warranties.
- Can you provide a portfolio or examples of past finished projects? Assess their quality and style.
Signs It’s Time to Walk Away From a Contractor
Be cautious proceeding with any contractor showing these red flags:
- Cannot provide a valid license
- No general liability insurance and/or workers comp
- Shady recordkeeping or billing practices
- Difficulty giving project details/timeline
- Makes disparaging remarks about past clients
- Asks for a very large deposit upfront
- Is evasive responding to questions
- Claims all negative reviews are lies
- Pressures for an immediate hiring decision
Trusting your intuition is critical – if something feels amiss or communications deteriorate early on, it may be best to walk away and keep looking vs. hoping for the best. Protect yourself and your home investment by finding an ideal contractor match.
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Asking insightful questions during the contractor selection process can uncover red flags, give you confidence in their capabilities, and set proper expectations. Invest time upfront in researching options, checking licenses and insurance, gathering quotes, interviewing thoroughly, and verifying references. Avoid headaches by finding a contractor who excels at communication, has extensive experience with projects like yours, and embraces best practices on all fronts. Protect your budget, timeline, property, and peace of mind by making a well-informed contractor choice.
FAQs About Hiring Contractors
What questions should I ask when comparing contractor quotes?
Focus questions on the details differentiating the quotes like project scope, materials, timeline commitments, and fee structures. Ask contractors to explain major pricing differences.
Should I take the lowest contractor bid to save money?
No – far more important is skill, experience and a proven ability to deliver quality work. The lowest bid often reflects cutting corners that will cost you more later on.
What should I look for in a contractor’s previous client references?
Contact 2-3 references and ask how the contractor performed in areas like meeting timelines, communication, resolving issues, managing subs, and cleanup.
How thoroughly should I check licenses and insurance?
Verify contractor’s license is current directly via your state licensing board website. Request insurance certificates, check policy expiration dates, and confirm coverages are adequate for your project size.
What are signs a contractor may not finish my project?
Frequent unfinished projects, work stoppages, and abandonment result when contractors are overbooked, disorganized, or financially unstable. Watch for these red flags in background research.
Can I require my contractor to be bonded?
Larger projects often require bonding, which guarantees funds exist to complete work if the contractor fails to perform. Check with your architect on bond requirements.
Should I hire a contractor without visiting their past work?
It’s quite risky to hire any contractor without seeing examples of their work firsthand. If possible, visit active job sites and completed projects to evaluate quality.
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