When looking for a contractor, it’s imperative to know what questions to ask. If you’re starting a remodeling project and the ins and outs of the industry are over your head, consider the following as a blueprint for interviewing firms.
How long have you been in business? Look for a company with an established business history in your community. Surviving in any business in today’s competitive marketplace is difficult, so most successful contractors are proud of their history in the industry.
Do you carry workers’ compensation and liability insurance? Ask for copies of the insurance certificates to verify coverage. “It only takes one person to fall off a ladder to really mess up your life,” says Rolf Bell, owner of Green Living Builders LLC in Berkeley. “If a company isn’t carrying workers’ comp and liability insurance, the homeowner is at fault.”
Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job? Also ask whom you should contact if the supervisor isn’t available. Get exact names and phone numbers for all people who’ll be involved in the project. “Quality control is maintained or lost based on the continuous communication, direction and training provided by the contractor and the primary foreman,” says Mr. Bell.
What’s the time frame for starting the project? Ask questions about work schedules. You should find out when they expect to be finished, how early their crew will begin work, when the crew normally quits for the day, and if you’ll be contacted about delays or changes in the schedule.
What’s your approach to a project of this scope? This will give you an idea of how the contractor works and what to expect during the project. Listen carefully to the answer—it’s a big indicator of the company’s work ethic.
How is your firm organized? You should know what parts of your project will be handled by staff, and which will be contracted out to independent contractors.
Are you a full service or specialty firm? If you’re planning a small project, you may be better off hiring a specialty firm. However, if your project involves multiple changes, entire rooms or additions, you should consult a full service or design-build firm.
Do you offer design services? If you’re considering a large or involved project, you’ll need design services. If the contractor doesn’t have design-build capabilities, you should consider hiring an architect. Depending on the size and scope of the project, you may even need a structural engineer.
Are any of your employees certified? Trade certifications are good indicators of dedication, professionalism and knowledge of the industry. Remodelers are required to meet certain industry criteria to maintain their certifications.
Can I have a list of references for projects you’ve completed that are similar to mine? The contractor should be able to supply you with a minimum of three references, including names, telephone numbers and addresses. As a follow-up to this question, ask how long ago the project was completed and if the contractor can arrange a visit to see the finished job. You should also ask for professional references from suppliers, financial institutions or subcontractors to verify sound business practices.
How many projects like mine have you completed in the past 12 months? This will help you determine the contractor’s familiarity with your type of project. You should confirm that a good portion of those completed projects were similar to the type of project you’re proposing.
Will I need a permit? Most cities and towns require permits for building projects. Failure to obtain the necessary permits or to arrange obligatory inspections can be illegal. In some cases, if a project violates a zoning law or some other regulations, it may even have to be demolished if there’s no way to comply with the law. A qualified remodeling contractor will be conscious of the permit process and ensure all permits have been obtained before initiating any work.
Can I have a list of your suppliers? Calling a contractor’s suppliers will help protect you from mechanics liens for nonpayment by the contractor. Suppliers also can be a source to establish a company’s credit history.
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