Questions Every Contractor Wishes You Would Ask
by Michele Dawson
You've spent countless hours dreaming about the day you would finally transform your kitchen or bathroom to mirror the modern display at your local home improvement store. Or perhaps the time has come to launch a remodeling project with an eye toward getting your home in top shape so you can place it on the market.
If you're one of the 26 million homeowners who makes improvements to their homes in a given year, then you should heed the wisdom of professional contractors, who say that most people who seek professional help ask the wrong questions in their search for a contractor.
"Timing and money are about the extent of questions we hear," says John Stanforth of John Stanforth Construction in Ohio and a member of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. "During an interview with a homeowner when homeowners should be asking about my credentials and verifying my business practices, all I hear is: when can you start? When will it be finished? And how much will it cost?"
Instead, Stanforth says questions should focus on a company's business practices and experience.
NARI recommends you ask these questions in your search for a contractor:
- How long have you been in business?
- Who will be the project supervisor?
- Will employees or subcontractors be working on the project?
- Does the company carry workers compensation and liability insurance?
- How will you approach this project?
- How many similar projects have you completed?
- How much repeat and referral business do you have?
- Are you certified in remodeling or do you hold any special training or education?
- May I have a list of references related to those projects?
Once you receive a list of references, NARI suggests asking them questions such as:
- Were you able to communicate easily with the remodeler?
- Did the remodeler and crew show up on time?
- Was the job done on schedule?
- Was the contract fulfilled?
- Did the remodeler stay in contact throughout the project?
- Were you pleased with the outcome (you may even ask to see the final product)?
- Would you use the remodeler again?
If your project is large enough to prompt you to hire a contractor, then you should take extra time and caution in finding one who will do a great job. After all, the outcome is something you have to live with and see on a daily basis (or something potential buyers will be considering), not to mention the amount of money you're putting into the project. And, the project's outcome could affect your home's resale value.
And finding a good contractor may become a more time-consuming task as the demand grows and the number of contractors increases.
Currently there are about 172,000 remodeling firms in the United States. There are another 200,000 self-employed as general contractors or in specialty trades like carpentry and plumbing. Plus, there are many more part-time professionals. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University expects those numbers to mushroom. As the number of single-person and empty-nester households rises, there will be fewer do-it-yourselfers, leaving a larger share for professional contractors.
And, the Joint Center reports that if you live in the Houston, Tampa, Miami, or Phoenix areas, you and your neighbors are more likely to remodel your homes over the next few years.
That's because most of the homes ripe for revamping in the next few years were built in the 1970s - a period that realized a major boom in the South and West. Those homes are reaching the 30-year mark - an age at which major improvement projects are required for both functional and aesthetic purposes.
But no matter where you live, if you hire a contractor, try not to focus on budget and timeline during your initial interview.
"Homeowners should be focusing on trust and quality," Stanforth said. "If you find someone who is reputable and trustworthy, the budget and timeline will fall into place."