Hiring a licensed contractor – the questions you should ask

How long have you been in business? – years in business do not necessarily imply good work nor do lack of years reflect poorly either.  You should consider the relative experience as it pertains to your needs and the difficulty of your project.

Is your name on your truck/hat/shirt – this shows a professional approach and accountability to the community at large.  when a truck is marked, your neighbors know who to call when parking problems arise, who is making all the noise, and can provide feedback on our actions when you are not home. Un-uniformed people walking through your house will also stand out.

Are you currently licensed and insured? – at a minimum, licensed and insured.  Another step would be to volunteer this information, including any certifications required for the type of work.  Hiring a legal contractor gives you certain rights to arbitration and claims at no cost to you, hiring an unlicensed contractor requires you to sue them for personal assets in civil court and potentially a great cost to you.  Insurance on employees will also protect you because an injured employee may sue the homeowner if the contractor is not properly insured.  Ask to be shown how to check the license status.

How do you communicate? – the right answer is: however you prefer, but at a minimum, frequently and in person or in writing or both.  Emailed status updates on a daily basis provide great moments to monitor progress.  Some customers prefer text for small decisions, but email follow-up should always be in use.  If you want to meet daily before going to work, set the expectation early.

How do you Invoice? Will there be a defined payment schedule? – no check of sizable portion should be handed over without a detailed invoice or payment schedule. Every check written is an opportunity to give a “report card moment” and should not be automatically given.  Frequent small checks are better than 2 very large.  A contractor without a clear plan for the work will ask for checks when bills are due and hurry tasks to earn a check.  You want to pay when the work is done right.

Who will have access to my house without direct supervision or at all? – your keys should be protected from copying or theft by employees, and no one without an ownership stake in the company should be left along in your house.  You live there and your contractor is the guest.  Unless the locks are being changed at the end of the job, disposition of keys can affect your life for years.

What is your warranty and what does it cover? – the actual answer here is not so important on the first visit, but comfort with talking about the subject and getting the general sense of “what happens if…”.  remember also, the warranty is only as worth as much as you can believe that that contractor is in the business for the long haul and will be around to take your call.  Responsible management of business finances, running the operation as a business and not a hobby, showing aptitude for the management side of things and not just good at swinging a hammer, invested in the community either financially or emotionally, these are all things you should consider when valuing the warranty.

Who are your subcontractors and how long have you worked with them?  Do you always know if they are currently licensed? – a subcontractor that wins the work only when he is the cheapest is not going to be as loyal as the subcontractor that gets steady and beneficial work from the General Contractor.  Look for long term relationships, subcontractors that work on the home of the owner, etc, and check the license of all involved.

How long will this take? – every project has some unknowns, but you need to know there is a timeline in mind and an expected end date.  Deviations should be communicated as needed.

Am I the priority? – if multiple jobs are being handled at once, know early on that you will see progress and someone at your home daily, or at least how you will notified of lulls due to supply backorders, drying times, etc.

What are your hours of work? – there may be restrictions on your project due to an HOA, weather, etc, and should be discussed.  Feel free to request a schedule that works for your life.  If you want a quiet house on specific dates due to vacations or holidays, plan ahead.

Do you have a weather related contingency plan? – if your house will be open to the weather, what is the plan for tarping/protecting/completion for protection of the house and security of your family after hours.

Are there steps that will make my home uncomfortable?  Odors or noise?  Will this dissipate before I come home each night? – you want to know that the contractor is sensitive to your indoor air quality and lifestyle.

Have you ever had a claim against your license or your bond? – you should be able to find this on the state website, but asking it will build trust and goodwill in ways that seeing it onscreen may not.  Few Contractors will have a perfect record, but there should be a narrative that does not make anyone out as an enemy.

What is your education? The actual formal education completed is not the important answer, but anyone who dodges this question will show themselves to be less than trustworthy.  A good business owner should feel free in discussing when school ended, what continuing educations courses have been completed, on the job training, etc.  This question is as much about rapport as any other.