Before hiring a contractor for a remodeling project, there are several things you’ll need to inquire about. Most importantly, you’ll need to verify current licensing and insurance, check references, and compare the contractor’s bid against other competing bids. It’s also important to ask about the project timeline, payment schedule and whether the contractor offers any warranties or guarantees. However, there are a few questions many homeowners don’t think to ask contractors, but should. Here are five such questions:
- How many projects like mine have you done recently?
Remodeling is a varied field, and contractors often specialize in certain aspects, such as kitchens, bathrooms or home additions. While most experienced contractors can handle a wide range of projects, it’s best to hire one who is well-versed in the specific type of work you want done. When requesting a list of references, ask the contractor to include examples of jobs that are similar to yours. By getting hard evidence that the contractor is qualified to perform your project, you’ll have more confidence in hiring them.
- Can you handle design or will I need to hire an architect?
Most remodeling projects require some level of architectural design, especially those that involve major changes like moving walls or adding on to the home. Ask the contractor if architectural drawings will be necessary and find out if they can provide these or if you’ll need to outsource them. Many remodeling contractors offer design services, which can be convenient; however, it’s a good idea to assess a contractor’s capabilities before agreeing to have them design your project. Again, references are the best way to go about this—ask for specific examples of jobs where the contractor handled both the design and the actual construction.
If the contractor doesn’t do design, you’ll probably need to hire an architect. Keep in mind that architectural drawings can be expensive, especially when contracted to an independent architectural firm. For this reason, you may want to compare the cost of hiring a contractor and an architect individually versus hiring a design/build firm that can provide everything in-house.
- Do you use subcontractors? If so, are they licensed and insured?
It’s common for remodeling contractors to hire subcontractors to handle work outside of their sphere of expertise, such as plumbing or fine carpentry. However, using subcontractors brings some concerns, primarily in regard to legal credentials. That’s why, in addition to verifying your contractor’s licensing and insurance, you should verify these credentials for all subcontractors working on your project.
California law requires general contractors to hire licensed subcontractors, regardless of the scope of their work. As for insurance, some contractors’ liability insurance covers work performed by subcontractors, while in other cases subcontractors may carry their own liability insurance. In either scenario, it’s important to verify proper coverage.
Workers’ compensation is a little more complicated. According to California law, a licensed, independent subcontractor with no employees isn’t required to carry workers’ compensation. However, to hedge against any possible liability, some general contractors require subcontractors to carry workers’ compensation regardless of whether they have employees. Ask the contractor whether they require their subcontractors to carry workers’ compensation, and if not, what assurances you have against liability.
- How will you communicate with me throughout my project?
One thing that often gets overlooked on remodeling projects is communication, which can result in a lot of stress and frustration. Ask the contractor if there will be a primary contact you can get in touch with during the job—this might be the contractor or a foreman tasked with supervising your project. You should also establish a preferred mode of communication, whether email, text message or phone call. Some contractors provide daily emails to update customers on their jobs’ progress, whereas others schedule weekly in-person meetings. In any case, you should expect the contractor to have a proactive plan for communication during the project.
- If necessary, how will future service issues be handled? Are you responsible for warranty work if there’s a problem with my remodeling project?
Many contractors offer warranties and guarantees on their work, but this doesn’t always mean they’ll be the one handling service issues down the road. For example, products like appliances, water heaters and HVAC equipment are usually manufacturer-warrantied, in which case any service issues will be handled directly through the manufacturer. To make sure you’ll be taken care of after the fact, ask the contractor which aspects of warrantied work they’ll handle personally and which will be handled by another party.