Renovating your home can be a huge financial investment. Knowing what to expect before the project gets started will help you better prepare for the process.
Obviously, hiring the right contractor can make the difference between your project being a success or a nightmare. Here are 17 questions you should ask your contractor before starting a home renovation project.
1. What is their background and how experienced are they in the specific type of job that you need for your home?
- Everybody deserves a break, but you don’t want your home to be a training ground for someone trying to learn the business.
- It’s a very basic question, so don’t be shy about asking them how long they’ve been in the renovation industry and how long they’ve run their company.
2. Are they licensed? And will they provide proof of their general liability insurance?
- It is important that your contractor is fully insured and capable of covering any accidents or mishaps that might occur while working on your project.
- If your contractor is uninsured, they should not be working on your property. Remember, being licensed does not mean they are insured.
- General liability insurance protects your home from damage or negligence of the general contractor, his employees, and any sub-contractors brought onto your property.
- You may be a very trusting person but resist the temptation to take their word for it. For your protection, make them prove it with a copy of their insurance certificate and check the expirations dates. You can also call the issuing authority and verify the insurance is in force.
3. Do they carry workers’ compensation insurance?
- Workers’ compensation insurance protects you from liability in the event a worker is injured while working on your property. Make sure you hire a fully insured general contractor.
4. Will they be hiring sub-contractors on this project?
- Most contractors will use trade contractors to some degree. It is important for you to know how this will impact your project.
- It’s important that you know which workers will be at your home during the renovation. You should know who they are – if the contractor will be there and any details about the team working on your home.
- Don’t hesitate to ask your contractor direct questions about who will be supervising the subcontractors on site and who you should call on a daily basis with any questions.
5. How many building permits have they obtained in this area in the last few years?
- Some general contractors may not be familiar with your area and the specific codes related to homes in the area. For example, if you live in an area that is populated with a large number of heritage homes, the local code requirements may take this into account.
- While not a deal-breaker, it helps if your contractor is familiar with your local building code requirements and permitting process.
6. Are they comfortable providing you with a list of past clients?
- A credible general contractor should have no problem providing multiple references.
- Celebrity contractor Mike Holmes recommends you take the time to contact 20 clients for whom the contractor has done a similar job. Then, you’ll know the type of work they can do and the level of service you can expect.
7. What is a realistic timeline for this home renovation project? And is your contractor able to document a schedule?
- Ask them to be as specific as possible, within reason. While unexpected problems might arise as the project unfolds, an experienced contractor should be able to give you a decent timeline for completion of the project.
- A schedule is more than just a start and end date. You should have a schedule that outlines tasks and completion milestones. With this, you’ll get the big-picture view of sequencing and deadlines. It will also give you concrete things to measure to ensure that your whole project is going according to plan. A good contractor will give you a daily schedule and will do their best to stick to that schedule throughout the job.
- But remember, renovations always take longer than planned. It doesn’t hurt to find out what kind of future jobs they have after they complete your project. You don’t want to have them disappear to their next job and not completely wrap everything up on your site just because they have lost interest, or the other job is more of a priority.
8. How many projects are they currently working on?
- It doesn’t hurt to know this. First, you probably want them to be a little busy. Otherwise, you may begin to question why you are the only one hiring them.
- On the other hand, if they have too many jobs going on for the size of the company they have, they may be spreading themselves thin, and this could impact the performance on your job site.
9. Will they take care of the process of getting all of the required building permits?
- Although there is some cost and additional time required for obtaining building permits, in a perfect world, you would have your contractor do this. It’s best your contractor does this. It means your project will be done according to code. With an expert handling the permitting process and setting up the inspections, your job should run smoother and in compliance with regulations.
- That being said, you should be a part of the inspection. First, you want to guarantee that it happens. And, you want to hear any feedback from the building department. This will ensure that you know if there are any changes or corrections that need to take place.
10. Who purchases the materials?
- Most contractors get discounts on materials and often, they will pass some of those savings on to the homeowner.
- But you still need to define who is doing what – for example, are you responsible for picking up the hardwood flooring or is the contractor? And is this a part of the quote or not? All of this should be documented as best as possible, so it is clear who is paying for what.
11. What happens if they find something unexpected?
- It is quite common to find something you didn’t plan for in the course of a home renovation project. For example, walls can hide a lot of problems and regardless of how good or accurate a contractor is, he or she is not a magician and cannot see through walls.
- The important thing is to know who is responsible and for what.
12. What is the clean up going to be like on the job site?
- Are they going to clean up the site every day at the end of the day? You should both define what “clean up” means, because a contractor may have a very loose definition when compared with a homeowner.
- And make sure there is an understanding of dirty work that must go on during the job. For example, if mudding and sanding are required on drywall, there is no getting around that fact that there is going to be a great deal of dust created. The question is, are they going to be prepping the site properly so that dust does not blow throughout your entire house. Will they temporarily seal off vents and cover doorways to limit the exposure of areas of the home that are not a part of the work site?
13. What is the payment schedule?
- This varies from company to company, but you should never pay the entire amount up front.
- According to Mike Holmes, a 10% deposit is standard, with payment instalments based on completion milestones.
14. What is their after service support?
- A construction project usually does not end with the crew leaving the site. Ask the Contractor whether they have checklists that you’ll go over together before you sign off. And make sure some kind of process is in place for resolving any items you feel are not up to acceptable standards.
15. Will they provide you with written lien waivers?
- Your contractor should be willing to provide you with written lien waivers for them and any sub-general contractors that worked on your project.
- A lien waiver is a legal document that verifies you have paid the general contractor in full for the services rendered.
16. What type of communication will they be using throughout the job?
- You certainly want to know that he or she is updating you about the process of your renovation. The medium of communication depends on both of you. Just be clear if you prefer emails, texts, or phone calls.
17. Do they provide detailed contracts?
- The answer here should be a resounding yes. A true professional always work with a proper, written contract. This protects both of you and is just common sense.
- A contract should detail a clear project plan and identify what you and your contractor have agreed to.
A written contract should include the following:
- A full description of the work, including the materials and products to be used.
- Dates when the work will start and be completed.
- A clear payment schedule that lays out when and how much you will be charged.
- What lien holdbacks are required.
- The contractor’s warranty detailing what is covered and the duration.
- Confirmation that the contractor has business liability coverage for your project, and that required Workers’ Compensation coverage is in place.
By asking your contractor the 17 questions above before you start your renovation project, you’ll ensure that you are setting yourself up for home improvement success.
It won’t take you more than 10 to 5 minutes to ask your prospective contractor these questions, and the answers should clarify your decision. You may not ask every question. But the more you do, the better off you’ll be.