Questions to Ask a Contractor Before Starting a Project

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Contractors are the next level up from a handyman. When you’ve got a project that’s bigger than you, or bigger than a handyman, a general contractor is where you want to turn. They perform bigger jobs and supply many of the materials and all the labor required. In fact, many times when you hire a specialist for a job, they may contract out a portion of the labor to subcontractors for bulkier parts of the job. But, when looking yourself, what are the questions to ask when hiring a contractor?

How Long Have You Been in Business?

This question is about more than just the experience of the contractor. Many contractors have years of experience working for other companies, perhaps even back to their teenage years. But you’re not just hiring their experience, you’re hiring their business. And there is a lot more that goes with that than simply being skilled in the laborious parts of a contractor’s job. This will give you an understanding for their success in running a project, success in customer retention, success as a communicator with customers, and more.

If you don’t get info on how long someone has been operating their contracting business, you run the risk of finding out that, while the contractor is skilled at the work, perhaps they don’t communicate with you, aren’t flexible, or even that they can never manage to retain repeat business because of poor habits during the job. True that a blunt number of years in business doesn’t guarantee perfect quality, but it should be a gatekeeper question you ask all potential contractors.

Are You Licensed?

The importance of this among contractor questions should be obvious, but you may not realize different jobs might require different license. What the requirements are will vary by state and by your job. Do research on your own to know what license to ask for make sure you get proof of the document. For added assurance, you can take a look on state websites for the standing of your contractor with any governing body that handles licenses.

Not finding out this information can be costly. There may be legal problems that stall your job indefinitely. Do the due diligence on your end and make sure to get confirmation from your contractor before you agree to sign them for a job.

Do You Have Insurance?

General liability insurance is essential for any contracting business. Insurance protects their company, protects you, and protects your property from financial strain that the cost of damages could incur during a project. This should be high up on your list of what to ask a contractor during the higher process. No insurance. No deal.

If your contractor does not have insurance and damages your property without a means to pay for the repairs, you could find yourself in a financial situation or even a legal battle. This can be avoided by ensuring your hired contractor is completely and legally insured before you agree to hire them for a job. It’s also simply a show of good business practice to always have insurance.

What is Our Schedule & Deadline?

This is one of the more commonly overlooked questions to ask when hiring a contractor. But having a well communicated expectation of timeline is important to the success of a project and the relationship between you and your contractor. They want your repeat business and you want a contractor you can rely on for future projects as you need them.

Ask them their schedule, let them know your needs and expectations, and meet in the middle where needs be. Not taking this extra step could result in frustration from both ends, a rushed job, or a damaged relationship between you and your contractor.

What Happens if You Exceed Hours or Budget?

This should be an immediate follow up to the question above. After getting the budget and deadline information, you also need to check on the worst case scenario. Estimates are called estimates for a reason, and even the most careful planning, inspection, and execution could result in unforeseen circumstances. Even the best contractor runs into snags they didn’t anticipate.

If you don’t clear this up in the beginning, you’ll run into similar issues as above, but perhaps with a bit more financial strain if the budget is blown. You both need a contingency plan if things don’t quite go the way you hoped. Expectations will help take the shock away if something goes wrong and will help you plan financially for any issues that arise.

What is the Best Means of Staying in Touch with You?

Another big one. You may not see your contractor during the bulk of the project, depending on the hours they work and how much of it can be handled by the team without direct supervision from the contractor at all times. But if something goes wrong, you’ll want the contractor’s contact information at your fingertips. Besides, it’s just good business practice to be accessible to customers.

Not getting this info could become a problem very quickly if something does go wrong. There are smaller missteps, like a missed deadline or wrong delivery of materials. But there are bigger, worst-case scenarios that you’ll want to be prepared for with contact information for your contractor. This doesn’t just mean their business phone number and email, but a cell phone they keep on their person or even a personal email they check regularly.

Can You Provide a List of References?

This is more than just looking up Yelp reviews or testimonials on a company page. You want a list of people that you can contact to ensure your contractor is good on their word and trustworthy as a businessperson. This isn’t just about work ethic, this is someone you’ll be letting into your home or business.

While many review sites do what they can to vet all submitted reviews, there are always ways for companies to, unfortunately, fabricate their reviews. On top of that, it’s possible for businesses to keep negative reviews off websites and their own site while pushing only the positive ones. You need a complete picture and, whether that’s a good or a bad one, you’ll want to talk to someone who has worked with your contractor before to get the most truthful recommendation on their business.

Summary

Remember that when it comes to hiring a contractor, you are running a job interview and you need to vet someone to the same degree as if you were hiring a personal employee, You need to be sure of this person’s experience, temperament, ability as a business owner and leader, and trustworthiness in your home or business. It’s a long process, but a necessary one to guarantee the success of your project and business partnership with your contractor.

One way to start your search is heading over to eLocal and taking a look through their list of experienced contractors waiting for your call. You’ll be armed with all the questions you need to be asking when they do pick up the phone, making your process of hiring a contractor and completing your project that much easier and one step closer to completion.

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