room addition contractorby Dan Fritschen

How long have you been in business and how long have you operated in this neighborhood?

Everyone has to start off somewhere, but it is usually better to have a contractor with some experience. Finding out how long a contractor has been in your area will give you an indicator of whether they have established a good or bad reputation, and will tell you they have established good relationships with subcontractors and suppliers. If a contractor has moved around a lot then this may be a warning that they have left unhappy customers in their wake!

Although many successful construction companies have been started with former
tradesmen (workers), it is good to have some sort of specialized formal education or
training. Look for certifications, construction related college degrees, etc.

What types of remodel projects do you normally specialize in?

Most contractors will tell you that they normally do projects exactly like yours! However you probably already know from their website or listings ad what sort of work they do. If they answer outright that they don’t normally undertake your kind of project then use your judgement about whether this person has enough skills and experience before deciding to hire them.

Have you ever operated in business under another name?

Business do change their names when they grow or rebrand – but be sure to do research into the other company names to make sure they’re not covering up bad events from their past.

Have you filed for bankruptcy before?

This does happen to businesses unfortunately – be sure to find out what went wrong from the contractor themselves. If in doubt, conduct a little research of your own as courthouse records will tell you all you need to know.

Have you ever or do you currently have any lawsuits pending?

Again, checking courthouse records will turn up the info – but you must use your judgement before declining to hire your contractor because of any lawsuits.

What type of license do you have and can I take down the number?

Depending on where you live in the U.S, there are different types of licenses you will need. You can check the National Contractor License Service to see what licenses you need in each state.

After you’ve been given license numbers, be sure to verify them with the license board.

What type of insurance you have and what are the limits of your general liability insurance (dollar value)?

There will usually be state requirements for the minimum insurance required, and the contractor should be covered for much more than this ideally.

Are you members of any contractors associations or groups?

If your contractor is a member of a trade group or association you can find out a lot more about their reputation and standing in that group. It also lets you know that they are being kept up to date on current issues and trends in their field.

Have you ever won any awards or received trade press recognition?

Again, this is not essential but it can bring you peace of mind to know that your contractor has a good standing with their peers or in the local community.

Are you or any of your employees certified?

Many bigger contractors will make sure all of their employees are certified as it is a reassurance to potential customers that their workers have certain standards and abilities. If workers are not certified this may be a sign that the company is not seeking to invest in their employees or is not discerning enough.

How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year and in total?

The more, the better is generally the rule; having completed 2-5 similar jobs in the last six months is usually a good average to aim for.

Who will be the project manager for the job and what is their experience?

Make sure you get specific names and get phone numbers if you can. The more experienced a project manager, the better.

How often will someone from your office be on the jobsite?

More frequently is ideally the answer. This can range from every day to every third day, depending on the remodel; for example, if the exterior of your home is being painted the project probably doesn’t need to be overseen every day. However, an extensive interior remodel would mean that someone should be in closer contact with the team and with you.

What is your warranty?

Many remodel jobs need minor touch-ups soon after completion, for completely normal reasons. Find out what their policy is about a work warranty, and don’t be afraid to broach the subject of work that may need repairing soon after completion. If you feel that their warranty time is too short, this may be a warning that they don’t want to follow through on their jobs or that they have a history of work that doesn’t last long.

Remember that a warranty is only as good as the company standing behind it, so do not delay fixes and touch ups – get them done BEFORE making the final payment for the project.

What is your change order policy?

Remodeling projects can change during the construction phase; make sure you have everything finalized in advance for charging for extras. The clause for extras should be in writing and approved by both parties – including how costs will be calculated. There should also ideally not be any penalty fees.

Can I have a list of past and present customers?

The contractor should readily be able to give you a list of references. If they don’t this may be a warning that they have had problems in the past with work they have completed. Make sure you call or visit previous customers to see what they have to say and what you think of the quality of the work.

Having several remodeling jobs is a good sign that a contractor is in demand and that your project is not going to be used as a ‘cash cow’! Visiting a current remodeling site is also a good way to see how they work.

Can I have a list of suppliers you would use on my job?

Finding out from suppliers how they have found working with the contractor gives you a good indication of who you are hiring. You may also find good warning signs here such as a history of late payments etc.

Do you utilize lines of credit?

Many contractors use debt and lines of credit as tools, but this means a company can run into trouble; find out if your contractor does have lines of credit and whether they are paid off promptly.

Who do you bank with and how long have you banked there?

Having multiple banks over a short period of time could be a sign of trouble.

How do you receive payment? (Retainer % etc)

Your contractor needs to be very clear about how they are typically paid. Most will use the draw-schedule or percentage-of method; the draw-schedule method uses reaching building milestones to indicate payments instalments, with the final draw (usually 5-10%) being paid upon completion to your satisfaction.

Percentage-of completion means you are invoiced for work completed to date minus a
predetermined amount known as retainage. The retainage is then billed upon satisfactory
completion and is again around 5-10%.

Both methods have good and bad points, so do whichever one works for you. However, beware if a contractor is asking for a significant amount of money up front as a deposit. Generally I recommend not to give any deposit for work yet to be done and materials not yet delivered. The reason is that you, as a homeowner, have little recourse if the contractor doesn’t start work and keeps the deposit for whatever reason. You can certainly sue them to try and recover the money but it is easier to not pay any deposit and just pay as work is completed.

Are you bonded?

This is for commercial construction and means that a company meets strict financial requirements with a good track record. This shows a company is probably quite stable.

What makes you stand out from other companies?

Don’t accept a generic answer straight out of their ad such as ‘Service with a smile!’ Let the
contractor tell you why they have the best skills and let them back it up with a proven track record, awards, and longevity in business.

Why should I hire you?

Again, this is totally up to you as to what an acceptable answer is! If it’s professional credentials you care most about, then the contractor should be able to dazzle you – if it’s the personal touch then hopefully they’ll be able to prove their commitment to their work.