Any type of construction or re-model around the house is a big financial and emotional investment. And it almost always means putting your trust in a professional contractor. Knowing what to look for in a contractor—and what to expect once you’ve hired one—will help you prepare for the whole construction project. Here’s ten questions you should be able to answer before asking a contractor to begin your home renovation project:
- Do You Like Your Contractor?
Your contractor will quite likely be in and around your home and family for weeks or even months, so pay attention to any “bad vibes” you might get and don’t hire them if you don’t like them. Trust is a huge factor in getting along with your contractor, so be on the look out for exaggerations, embellishments or evasiveness and make your decision accordingly. Apart from technical competence, comfort should play a big role in the decision to hire a contractor because the single most important factor in choosing a contractor is how well you’ll be able to communicate with him or her.
- Is Your Contractor Licensed, Bonded and Insured?
Contractors that are licenced and insurance bespeaks their level of knowledge and creditability. A licence demonstrates that they have passed an exam and know local building codes and construction methods and so minimizes the likelihood of homeowners getting ripped off (because licenses can be revoked for unsafe or shoddy workmanship). Don’t be hesitant to ask for the contractor’s license number.
If a worker gets hurt during the construction process or if an accident causes damage to a neighbour’s property, your contractor’s insurance will cover the cost of the damage. But if the contractor has no insurance, you could be liable for the cost of any accident. So, be sure to get proof of insurance.
- Does Your Contractor Specialize in the Type of Work You’re Doing?
Because a lot of modern construction or renovation projects are closely regulated by building codes, it’s important to know that your contractor has lots of experience in your type of project so that they know all the details of what is involved. Professional contractors often do lots of research and keep up with the latest best practices by taking classes in specific types of projects, which allows them to be experts in their field. This means they can anticipate problems and complete the work using the latest best practices.
- Does Your Contractor Provide a Detailed Contract Before Work Starts?
A contract is really a detailed set of upfront expectations that spells out everything that will be executed so there’s no surprises for any parties involved. Such a contract should state the approximate start and end dates for the work, list the brands or quality of all items being installed, detail the costs of labour, materials and furnishings and include a comprehensive set of blue prints and drawings complete with written specifications. If a particular part or brand hasn’t been decided on, the contract should indicate a maximum budget for that item. No level of detail is too much.
- Who is Actually Performing the Work?
Will the contractor you hire perform the work himself or will it be sub-contracted out to someone else? Large jobs–like major room renovation or adding an edition to the house–will usually involve many sub-contractors. This is a good thing because plumbing, electrical, roofing and siding are best left to specialists in those fields. But find out who the subcontractors are, if any, because they’ll be showing up at your door, too. A trustworthy contractor will have trustworthy sub-contractors.
- Does Your Contractor Know Your Guidelines for Working in and Around Your Home?
If you don’t want work to begin before 10am and be over by 4pm, be sure to tell your contractor upfront because that could increase costs and lengthen finish dates. Will you be home during the construction process? Are there children in the home? Can the workers use the bathrooms? In short, your contractor should know what your limits and expectations are so he can better assess the job based on your parameters.
- What are Your Responsibilities?
It’s more than likely that furniture will have to be relocated during any construction or remodeling project. Sometimes fences need to be removed so construction vehicles can gain access to the backyard. Some contractors don’t move furniture for fear of damaging the items and instead recommend furniture movers. Removing fences can lead to the loss of the family pet. It’s important to set down all of these expectations in writing before the work begins.
- Did You Look at Examples of the Contractor’s Work?
Most contractors are proud of their work and are only too happy to let you see it, even if it means getting permission from homeowners they’ve worked for in the past. Real world examples have much more value than references because they let you actually see the contractor’s handiwork, quality and variety of work, design, creativity and can even ignite ideas for your own project.
- Is Your Contractor Local?
If a contractor didn’t do good work in your area, chances are they wouldn’t still be around. Local contractors who have been in business for a long time are usually good, reliable bets for projects because word travels fast in communities. It also means the contractor is involved in the area, the workers are probably local and that any problems that arise after the work is finished are more likely to be dealt with in a timely and satisfactory manner. A contractor doesn’t want to lose his local good reputation.
- Did You Throw Out the Low-ball Bid?
It’s always prudent to shop for a good value in a contractor, but that doesn’t mean the lowest price is always the best deal. You should be wary of a contractor who offers a price well below the nearest competitor because it often means he’s desperate for work or is willing to cut corners, neither of which is a good sign.