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8 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Contractor

Hiring a Contractor

American homeowners are expected to spend close to $340 billion on home improvements and repairs in 2018. A critical step in making those improvements a success is hiring the right contractor.

Choosing one involves more than having the skills your job requires. This is a relationship. After all, this person could spend weeks in your home, depending on how complex your project is. This is why you'll want to be diligent in your initial research, interview several candidates, and get multiple references on each before you hire one.

Where to Begin

Along with recommendations from friends and family, online resources like HomeAdvisor, Angie's List, Houzz, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau are all good starting points. Each lets you see documented reviews from members of your community about their experiences with area contractors.

When checking reviews, pay attention to how any potential issues were resolved. It can offer insight into how to manage the relationship to get the best results if you do hire that person's firm. Once you create a list of candidates, it's time to ask a few questions.

What to Ask

To help ensure you engage the right person for your project, here are some suggested conversation points.

  1. Are you licensed and insured? Make sure the person can legally work on homes in your area, that they carry workers’ compensation insurance, and have liability insurance as a business.
  1. How long have you been operating? Even if a contractor is new, find out whom they’ve worked for previously. Also, visit BBB.org to see if the business has changed its name, or if there is any other activity you should know about.
  1. Do you have a dedicated staff or will you be subcontracting? Subcontracting is fine, but it means you should get a better understanding of the criteria involved in the contractor’s hiring process of the subcontractors, who will be liable for them, and how they will be paid.
  1. Will you be pulling any necessary permits? Sometimes contractors prefer that homeowners get the permits—it saves them the time waiting in line. This can also be cheaper, as some contractors charge to get the permits to compensate for their time.
  1. How do you charge? In addition to their estimate, find out what the payment schedule will be. Many contractors will ask for a deposit to reserve their time and then ask for a percentage just before the job starts so they can buy materials. Typically, the remaining amount is paid in stages, with the final amount distributed once you are satisfied the job is complete.
  1. What time do you start and finish, and do you work straight through? It is common for workers to come early, prep the area of the house they are going to work on, and then come and go throughout the day. Often, the contractor has multiple jobs and shifts workers among them. This may affect your schedule if you are at home with children, working from home, or have pets.
  1. Do you clean up at the end of each day? It helps to share and set your expectations. Ideally, you will want to work with a contractor who intends to treat your home with the same regard as they would their own.
  1. Can you provide references? While the online review sites help you get to know a contractor, being able to drive by other homes the contractor has worked on, see photos of their work, and have a one-on-one chat with satisfied homeowners gives you greater confidence you've found the right person for your job.

Once you've asked your questions, request a written contract that outlines each party’s responsibilities and your expectations. Even on small jobs, it helps ensure you'll have a more successful working relationship.

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