Photo by Olgar Fallas

Update: Choosing the right contractor for your home renovations is essential for a successful remodeling project. Most contractors deliver good quality work without any problems, but there is always a risk of finding a bad seed. Making sure that your contractor has a good reputation with a long history of similar work to yours is a good first step, and ensuring that they are fully licensed and insured means you are protected in the event of any problems. And finding a contractor that you are comfortable with personally will also make your home remodel run smoothly.

Interviewing contractors for your home remodel or house addition is the single most important step in planning and completing a project. Finding and engaging the right contractor for your project is the difference between a good experience with the desired results and a nightmare. You should, therefore, plan to interview as many contractors as possible – five is good, ten is better.

Most people find it helpful to make a list of the questions they plan to ask. It is also helpful to use the same wording of questions when interviewing each contractor. A list of questions, phrased consistently, ensures comparability of responses from contractors.

It will also be helpful in making a good choice between the contractors you interview if you make notes of each person’s responses. It is very easy to confuse information or to forget who said what. One way to do this is to create a list of questions, leaving space to make notes on each response. Then make enough copies to have one for each interview. You might want to use something similar to the list below.

When requesting and comparing cost estimates, it is critical that you provide identical specifications to each contractor. We suggest always using a request for quote form. The more detail you provide on this form the easier your comparison of bids will be. To see a sample form, click here.

The purpose of a contractor interview is to gather information and cost estimates for your project. You will also gain from the interviews a clear sense of whether you can or cannot work with each contractor and whether you do or do not want them in your home.

There are six basic elements of information that inform a good choice of the right contractor for your project:

  1. Is the contractor registered, certified or licensed appropriately in your locality?
  2. Does the contractor have enough experience with the kind of project you are planning?
  3. Is the contractor capable of successfully completing your project? Does he/she know how to do what you want done?
  4. What is the contractor’s reputation?
  5. How does the contractor estimate the price of the specific project?
  6. Are you able to develop a suitable rapport with the contractor?

If you have done your homework in deciding which contractors to interview, you will have gathered a certain amount of this information. You will, however, want to confirm all information you have gathered about a contractor with him/her. If you have discovered negative information, you should give the contractor an opportunity to explain or clarify the circumstances of the situation.

The questions that follow are organized by the six types of information one is generally trying to acquire in a contractor interview. Some are fairly generic and can be used as stated. Others are more specific and will require you to insert the specific elements of the questions.

  1. Is the contractor registered, certified or licensed appropriately in your locality?
    • May I see your license and other certifications required by the state/city/county?
    • Are you a member of any professional organizations or associations?
    • Do you carry liability insurance? May I see proof of insurance?
    • Do you carry workers’ compensation insurance? May I see proof of that insurance?
    • Who will supervise the job on a day-to-day basis?
    • Will all of your workers or sub-contractors be able to show me a license or certification for the work they are doing?
    • Will you obtain the necessary permits and inspections? Or, will I need to do that? RemodelOrMove.com: Contractor Selection Workbook
    • What is your customary practice if some part of the work does not pass inspection?
    • Do you use illegal immigrants on your work teams?
  2. Does the contractor have enough experience with the kind of project you are planning?
    • How long have you been in business?
    • Have you ever worked in another state/city/part of the country? If yes, how long?
    • Do you generally focus on particular types of work? What are those types of work? (e.g., roofing, general contracting, renovations, remodeling, home additions, plumbing, electrical, new construction, etc.)
    • My project is ___________________________. How much experience do you have with projects of this sort? How many years have you been doing this kind of project? How many projects of this kind are you doing now?
    • Is my project the kind of work with which you are comfortable?
    • Do you enjoy doing this kind of project?
  3. Is the contractor capable of successfully completing your project? Does he/she know how to do what you want done?
    • Considering the various kinds of work required for this project, how much of the work will you do? How much will your own crew do? How much will be done by sub-contractors?
    • Are the sub-contractors you would use people with whom you work regularly? How many times have you used these sub-contractors in the last year?
    • What do you think will be the most challenging parts of this project?
    • Assuming this design, do you believe there are aspects of the plan that are inappropriate or too difficult?
    • What alternatives can you suggest?
    • Would you outline for me the steps that must be done for this job and the order in which they must be done?

  4. What is the contractor’s reputation?
    • In my research I gained the impression that you are generally regarded as the contractor who ______________________________- (finishes on time, uses the highest quality materials, uses the best trades-persons, completes projects under budget, provides the best job but tends to run over budget, etc.). Would you say this is accurate?
    • In my research I learned that there was a lawsuit against you in (year). Would you like to tell me your side of the story?
    • In my research I learned that your license was suspended in (year). Would you tell me about that situation?
    • What percentage of your business is repeat or referral?
    • Have you ever had complaints about the quality of your work or that of the subcontractors you hire? How did you respond to the complaints? What did you do to resolve the problems?
    • Tell me your thoughts about professionalism and ethics?
    • What is your policy if a sub-contractor tries to cut corners on a project?
  5. How does the contractor estimate the price of the specific project?
    • As you complete this request for quote form, would you please make notes of any and all variations in materials, workmanship, etc. that are part of your quote?
    • How will the price of the project be affected if there are weather delays or other schedule problems?
    • Can you identify ways to reduce cost and maintain quality in this project?
    • Can you suggest ways to ensure that the project finishes on time?
    • How do you feel about me purchasing these materials if I can save money on the project by doing so?
    • My present thinking is that I would like to do some of the work to reduce cost. I would like to do _________________________ (e.g., framing, painting, trim work, etc.). Do you have any problem with that?
    • Should I select you for this project, will our contract be based on an estimate or a firm price?
    • Are you aware of new products or materials I should consider for this project?
  6. Are you able to develop a suitable rapport with the contractor?
    • Do you have any problem working with female homeowners on projects of this sort?
    • How much of the time do you anticipate needing me to be available during the project for questions or decisions?
    • Will it be necessary for my family to leave the house during any phase of the work?
    • Will my family and property be safe with your sub-contractors in the house?
    • What will you do to protect my family and property from damage or harm during the project?
    • Are you willing to work with my vision of the end result of this project?

You will think of other questions specific to your project or to the contractor. You should include these questions in your discussions. The questions we have provided, however, should assist you in gathering the information you need to make a sound decision about the contractor you will hire. Remember: it is important that you be convinced the contractor you select can be trusted both to be in your home and to do the project to the level of quality you expect.