10 questions to ask any contractor before your project begins

Hiring the right contractor for a home renovation project or remodel is critical. There are basic questions every homeowner should ask before selecting a contractor to work on your project. Renovations can be stressful enough with managing budgets, making decisions on materials and design, and finding somewhere to live (either inside or outside your home, depending on the size of the project), and ensuring you have the right person for the job is one way to alleviate that stress.

Your contractor(s) will be in your home for a period of time. Whether it’s two days or two months, you need to feel secure knowing they are trustworthy, reliable, and have the requisite skills necessary to get the job done with the quality you deserve.

There are some questions to ask of anyone you’re hiring to give you peace of mind that this is the exact right person (or company) for the job:

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1. Do you have insurance/are you licensed?

Insurance requirements and licensing will vary from state to state, sometimes even between counties, so you need to understand what those are for the area you live. Most contractors will have liability and/or workers comp insurance (and you shouldn’t hire them if they don’t). Accidents happen, and you don’t want to find out too late that they aren’t covered.

2. Can I talk to previous customers?

It’s always a good idea to talk to someone with intimate knowledge of the quality of work a specific contractor performed. Getting a referral and asking “Is there anything you wish you knew before you hired them?” is always a good idea. It may not be a deal-breaker for you, but it’s good to know of anything you might need to watch out for.

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3. Do you have a website with photos of your work?

Contractors don’t necessarily need a website to showcase their work, but it shows a level of professionalism and dedication to their work. It may not be your exact style but look for quality craftsmanship, especially if you hire them for custom cabinetry, flooring, or tile work.

4. Can you commit to my timeline?

What you’re trying to understand here is if your potential contractor has any other projects they’re working on at the same time. This is an important one to know to save the frustration of any surprise vacations or days when you expect them to show up, but they are busy with another project.

“This is an important question for both homeowners and contractors to be clear on,” said Paul Bohn, a contractor with PRB Home Solutions in Minneapolis. “Often, contractors have multiple projects going at a time, so setting expectations is key for everyone involved in the project.”

5. What is the projected timeline for completion?

While unexpected problems might (read: will) come up, especially on the more complex renovation project, an experienced contractor should be able to give you a projected completion date that’s fairly accurate. Make sure you keep in mind (and ask about) expectations if there are holidays or other expected disruptions during your project.

6. What are your expectations for payment?

Understand when and what amount will be due and when. Does the work need to be approved by you as the homeowner, or does simply completing the task necessitate payment? What are the contractual obligations if you aren’t happy with their work?

“This is something that’s mandated by the Department of Labor that should be agreed to in writing, including a start and estimated completion date, a total payment amount, and when payments are due to avoid any hiccups down the road,” Bohn said.

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7. Will you provide a detailed description of what you are responsible for providing/picking up?

Again, you don’t want to be surprised when they show up on day one and ask where your kitchen or bathroom tile is. Make sure you know exactly what you need to order and by when, so there are no hold-ups. If there are certain upgrades you want to make on their “standard pricing” fixtures or lighting included in their bid, make sure those are noted upfront.

8. How often will I be updated about my project’s progress?

This is a question you’ll especially want to ask if you are moving out while work is being completed. The answer you’ll want to hear is “daily” because you want to be assured progress is being made, especially if you can’t get back to your home to check on it.

9. Who will pull any necessary permits for the work?

The law regarding who pulls permits on a project also varies by state and sometimes even by the city you live in. Any contractor worth their salt should know it’s their responsibility to pull the permits to ensure all paperwork is in proper order.

10. What is your daily schedule?

This last question is a big one. If you’re staying in your home as the contractor is working, you will be living by their schedule as you go about your life. If a contractor can’t give you definitive times when they will be working, it will cause unnecessary stress and inconvenience for you wondering if and when they will show up every day. Living in chaos and disarray isn’t fun for anyone.

Finding a reputable contractor doesn’t have to be stressful, but it can lead to a whole lot of stress down the road if you don’t do your homework. Referrals are your best friend in this situation. Talk to friends, coworkers, and neighbors who you know have recently hired contractors for home remodels and interview several firms before you make a selection. It’s one of the most important decisions you will make.

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