13 Things to Ask Before Hiring a Contractor

You’ve heard horror stories of contractors doing shoddy work and make mistakes homeowners just have to live with. Or worse, costing them thousands of extra dollars. So how do you make sure you’re hiring a great contractor instead of your worst nightmare? Ask them these questions.

  1. What qualifications/licensing do you have?: This should be your first question to any prospective contractor. You don’t want just any schmuck off the street working on your house, right?
  2. Can I have an itemized bid?: An itemized bid will help you decide between contractors. And if you have to decide to cut something from the budget, it’ll help you decide what will make the biggest impact.
  3. Can I meet the job foreman?: Most of the time your contractor isn’t actually don’t the work on your house, that’s the foreman’s job. If you ask to meet the foreman, the contractor is more likely to assign one of the company’s better employees to your project. You’re probably going to want to visit your job site often, so meeting the foreman ahead of time means you’ll have a base for that relationship before you even get started. And it’s never a bad idea to have a good relationship with the job foreman.
  4. What types of insurance do you have?: What happens if a construction worker falls off a ladder? Are you going to be paying for his medical bills? And what happens if something gets broken? Will your homeowner's insurance have to cover it or will the contractor’s insurance take care of it?
  5. Do you have references: Your contractor should be able to provide references for similar projects. Don’t just ask for the references, call them.
  6. What’s the payment schedule?: You should never pay a contractor for a project upfront. What happens if it’s not done well or your contractor walks out? Set a payment schedule based on project milestones. That way you can be sure the project is being done on schedule and up to your standards before you pay for the whole thing.

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  7. What are my payment options?: You want to make sure you can access the money you need to pay the contractor. So if you were planning on putting it on a credit card and paying it off slowly, it might come as an unpleasant surprise if your contractor tells you they only take cash or checks. That being said, be careful if a contractor only accepts cash or checks made out to an individual. Both of those options might mean your payment isn’t on the books somewhere and the contractor might not be paying taxes on your money. You don’t have to be an IRS watchdog, but a legitimate, licensed business owner is more likely to follow the law.
  8. What’s the timeline?: A timeline will help keep you both on schedule. You’ll have a heads up when certain parts of the project are expected to be completed when the contractor might need to call you in to get your input.
  9. What’s the down payment?: Your contractor should definitely get a downpayment, but it shouldn’t be astronomical. Look for something that’s 10 percent or less of the total cost. Remember, you can usually get a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to cover that cost.
  10. How will we communicate?: Your contractor should be flexible when it comes to how you want to communicate. Don’t expect them to send you Snapchats on the progress (but hey, that might work for you!), but you should be able to get emails, phone calls, or text messages depending on your preference.
  11. Does your work come with a warranty?: It might look great, but what happens if your pergola falls down at the first sign of wind or your pipes burst after three days? Having a warranty means your project is protected if your contractor made a mistake.
  12. Do you agree to a termination clause?: Ask your contractor if they’ll agree to a termination clause in the contract. All that means is that you both agree you can fire the contractors or the contractor can quit at any time. It’s probably not going to happen, but it protects you both. If you turn out to be the world’s worst client your contractor can decide whether or not it’s worth it and if your contractor misses deadlines by a mile, you can go in a different direction.
  13. How do you deal with change orders?: Having rules for change orders that you both agree on will save a lot of headaches. Asking your contractor to change something every day (and then change it back the next) isn’t fair and is going to seriously slow down your project. But it’s also completely reasonable that you might want to change or add something along the way. Agree on how often, what, and when you can make changes, and how much it’s going to cost.