INSIGHT

Seven Key Questions to Ask Your Contractor

Jim Giller

Few undertakings are more complex than building a new home or remodeling an existing home. One of the biggest decisions you will make is that of choosing a general contractor, where the potential for costly mistakes can seem overwhelming. But with the proper preparation, your risks can be greatly reduced.

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If you’re building or remodeling, your brain has already been flooded with a million and one questions. You’ve had to ponder windows, doors, floors, furnaces, roofs, light fixtures, countertops, bathtubs . . . everything!

The good news, though, is that all those decisions you’ve made leading up to the launch of the project itself are about to pay off. Because of all the things that will help you choose the right person for the job, knowing what you want may be the most important. The more clearly you can tell a contractor what you want, the more likely you are to actually get what you want when building a house.

Once you’ve made up your mind – and that really is the hardest part – the next step is to prepare for your interviews with a number of contractors. Here again, it may feel like you have a million and one questions to ask your contractor. Let’s start by narrowing it down to just seven.

  • How much experience do you have? Experience counts. If your new house is the first home construction project the contractor sitting in front of you has done, you need to know that. But don’t assume that experience is automatically equal to the number of years a builder has been in business. You also want to know what kind of experience the person has and if it matches your particular needs. Don’t forget to ask for references, too. Talking to other people the contractor has worked for is an essential part of your decision.
  • Are you licensed or insured? Home construction is dangerous work. If employees get hurt on your job, you don’t want the financial responsibility for their injuries falling on your shoulders. And if your property should be damaged, you don’t want to foot the cost for repairs, either.
  • Who will be in charge? Whether your project is large or small, it’s almost a sure thing that a variety of workers will be coming and going from your home—plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc. It’s important to know who is overseeing all these people and how you can get in touch with them should the need arise.
  • Do you use subcontractors? The answer to this question will almost certainly be “yes,” but it’s worth asking. Many times, the subcontractors are the people who do the actual work—you should know who they are. Don’t be afraid to get specific. Ask who does the electrical work, who installs the windows, and who paints the walls? If they don’t have ready answers, you might want to go with someone else.
  • Can changes or upgrades be made? Even if you thought you knew exactly what you wanted, home construction can be a work-in-progress. What looked good on paper or in your head might not pan out in the real world. If the plans are set in stone, you need to know that before someone shows up at your house with a wrecking ball or a truck load of cement.
  • How long will this project take? Getting a reliable answer to this question can be tough. Regardless of the estimated completion date the general contractor gives you, some delays will probably be inevitable. All the same, you need to have an idea as to when the upheaval in your home will come to an end and when you can move in!
  • Do you offer any warranties? Best case scenario, everything turns out exactly the way you wanted it. Worst case scenario . . . you’ll want to know where you stand before that day arrives. If your written agreement with a contractor does not provide a guarantee for the quality of work performed – both during and after construction – consider someone else for the job.