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  • Lisa Moore

14 Questions To Ask a Home Remodeling Contractor

Once you narrow your search to a few possible candidates, it’s time to personally interview each one. The key to a stress-free (or at least not completely chaotic) project is to ask the right questions of your candidates. Here are 14 questions to help you make sure your contractor understands your vision, can get the job done on time and on budget, and has the necessary qualifications: 

1. Are You Licensed and Certified?

If you’re wondering how to check a contractor’s license, it’s best to start with your state’s licensing page online. Gauldin says you can look up specific contractors on your state’s page to see what licenses or certifications they hold. Also, find out what your county government requires. You want to make sure your contractor and their subcontractors hold the certifications related to the job they’ll be doing. If they don’t, you run the risk that they don’t have the proper training for the job.

Ask what special certifications the contractor holds, such as CGR (Certified Graduate Remodeler) through the National Association of Home Builders or LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) through the U.S. Green Building Council, and if they belong to any industry organizations. “Membership in organizations and advanced certification shows they’re invested in their profession,” says Gauldin.

2. Do You Carry Workers’ Compensation and Liability Insurance?

If the contractor doesn’t carry the proper insurance, you’re liable if anyone is injured on site. Ask to see a copy of their insurance certificates. In some areas, according to Gauldin, small companies aren’t required to carry workers’ compensation. But if one of their employees is injured on the job, you’d be liable. This is something to cover with a handyman, too, as they tend to work alone or with just one other employee.

3. Will You Take Care of Building Permits?

This is a trick question. “Whenever a contractor tells the homeowner they need to get the permit in their name, red flags and alarms should go off,” says Gauldin. Because, ultimately, the person responsible to make sure the job is done properly is the person whose name is on the permit. A responsible home renovation contractor will understand this and act accordingly.

4. How Many Jobs Like This Have You Done?

If your job involves something like moving plumbing lines or knocking down a load-bearing wall, you want someone who knows what to expect. Even a seemingly straightforward bathroom remodeling job could pose a challenge for the contractor who’s never remodeled a bathroom before.

5. Will There Be a Dedicated Team on This Project, and Will It Include Sub-Contractors?

This question lets you know if the same people will come to your house every day or if you’ll have a steady flow of new faces. If you want to feel secure with strangers in your home, hire a contractor who provides a dedicated team to your job, and find out who the project manager is over that team. That team could include your contractor’s own employees or subcontractors they know and trust.

6. How Do You Prefer To Communicate and How Frequently?

For a large remodeling job, weekly meetings with the project manager are ideal. But between those times, find out the best method of communicating with your contractor and their team members.

7. What Are Your Payment Terms?

Gauldin says that Virginia requires contractors to provide a line-item contract, spelling out each aspect of the job. Find out what’s required in your area, and make sure you have all the terms in writing.

Q: How do you ask a contractor for a quote? A: Beyond the payment terms themselves, of course you want to find out what your contractor candidates charge. Do they charge per job, or is there an hourly rate for remodeling contractors, for example? Generally speaking, you’ll pay anywhere from $20 to $150 per square foot for your project — which is quite a wide range — but the final amount depends on your vision, your materials, and the professional you pick to do the job. 

DIY home remodeling is an option, of course. But when you factor in the sometimes cumbersome permitting process, sourcing materials, and general risks — particularly involving electrical or plumbing work — you might find that a contractor is the more economical option in the long run.

8. What Happens If Something Runs Over Budget?

Hopefully, you’re padding your estimate with 10-25 percent more for unexpected events. If your contractor finds mold behind the bathroom tile, which pushes you over budget, you want to know the procedure from that point forward.

9. How Are Change Orders Handled?

One of the reasons jobs run over budget is the homeowner changes their mind about something. If you decide the chrome fixtures you picked out are all wrong and want to change them out for brass throughout your kitchen, you need to know your remodeling contractor’s process for getting that done.

10. Do You Extend a Warranty on the Job?

Most contractors offer some form of warranty on their work. You want to know what it’ll cover and for how long. Also, some of the materials or installations come with their own warranties. Make sure you request copies of them.

11. How Do We Resolve Any Conflicts?

Despite the best efforts of all involved in this remodeling project, conflicts may arise. If they do, you want to know the best way to resolve them. An experienced home renovation contractor already has a process in place for these circumstances.

12. How Long Should the Job Take? Can It Be Done in Time for the Holidays?

If you have a deadline in mind for this job, you want to make sure this contractor can meet it. Keep in mind, says Gauldin, that just the estimating process alone can take a few weeks.

13. What Steps Will You Take To Protect My House and Belongings?

First, you want to make sure your remodeling contractor carries adequate liability insurance for your job. But it’s nice to know they’re proactive in preventing damage in the first place. Ask where they’ll park their vehicles. You aren’t going to want a collection of work trucks on your lawn during the rainy season. Ask about sheeting to keep dust contained and coverings for your flooring. And what about your belongings? The last thing you want is a broken family heirloom because it fell off the shelf on the other side of the wall due to hammering. Many contractors recommend putting personal belongings in storage during the construction phase. Ask how they suggest you clear the way for the work to be done.

14. What Does a Typical Workday Look Like?

If you work evenings and sleep until 10 a.m., you probably won’t want the buzz of saws from your kitchen remodeling contractor waking you at 7 in the morning.

The interview is also a good time to get a few things nailed down, like:

  • What to do with pets

  • Where workers should park

  • When and if they need you present

  • If a bathroom is available for the work crew

  • Where they should store tools

Are you ready to perform major surgery on your home? It doesn’t have to be a hair-pulling, migraine-inducing nightmare. Follow the points in ourUltimate Home Remodeling Checklistto make the experience a happy one.

Carol J. Alexander writes about home remodeling and lifestyle topics from her home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her work has appeared in This Old House, Family Handyman, and Farmer’s Almanac. 

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