How to Hire a Contractor: Questions to Ask Before Hiring

PartRunner
6 min readJun 3, 2021

By Kelsea Mann

If you are looking to hire a contractor, especially for the first time, you might be dreading the process. Before you start this process, there are a few key things you should be looking out for. It can be a long, stressful ordeal to figure out who you should bring in to work on your home, and why, especially if you have recently moved in or relocated. Whether you are a first time home buyer or someone who’s been working with contractors for years and wants to check up on their skills, keep reading this article to make sure you have the tools to pick the right contractor.

  1. Getting Recommendations

If you have the ability, get recommendations from trustworthy sources. Start with your friends and family in the area if you have been there a while. Otherwise, a good resource to utilize is the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Call them or look online to find a list of members in your area. General contractor Tom Silva from This Old House recommends checking with a building inspector, who can give you a list of contacts specifically in home renovations, since they are the ones checking building code compliances. Similarly, local lumberyards and hardware stores see contractors of all types on site and know who uses quality materials and is a good working partner.

One helpful tip is to make sure any recommendations you get have been in the last 3–6 months. Also, come contractors do all different types of projects within their trade; make sure the person you’re getting a recommendation from had a similar type of project as yours.

2. Ask the Right Questions

Once you have a list of recommendations with some variety, try getting in touch with each contractor. How they respond and act on your initial phone call may be telling enough, but it’s good to have some questions prepared as well. Here are some sample questions from This Old House:

· Does this contractor take projects of your size?

· Are they willing to provide financial references, from suppliers or banks?

· Can they give you a list of previous clients?

· How many other projects would they have going at the same time?

· How long have they worked with other subcontractors?

Answering these questions will tell you more than enough about working with a contractor. Knowing that the contractor has a positive working history, which is backed by documents they are able to provide you, will provide peace of mind when it comes to working with them.

3. Narrow Down Your List, Meet in Person

Pick a few contractors whose phone interviews went well to meet with in person. Keep in mind the importance of meeting them in person, especially since they are going to be working in your home. If you have any project-specific questions to ask, now would be the time. Pay attention to how you feel interacting with them, and if you are still unsure, there are more places you can look for information. Try checking in with your state’s consumer protection agency, as well as your local Better Business Bureau. The information you find there will let you know if this person has had disputes with other clients or subcontractors.

4. Do Some Investigation

At this point, you should be able to narrow down your shortlist if you changed your mind about anyone who you met with in person. If you feel comfortable, call in other references to check on the quality of the contractor’s work. You can call up previous clients and ask them how their projects went, and if they feel satisfied with the results. Ask the contractor where their current jobsite is and go over yourself to see the contractor in action. If you’re looking for more, a great list of questions to ask previous clients is available over at prettyhandygirl.com.

5. Looking Forward

Now, you have your short list of contractors to hire for the project. They seem trustworthy and responsible, and you would feel comfortable working with them. It is time to compare pricing, and how candidates are approaching your project. A professional will want a sense of your budget and what you are expecting out of the project. Ask specifically for a breakdown of cost of materials, cost of labor, profit margins and other expenses. A guideline for what to expect is that materials will generally cost 40% of the total, while the overhead and profit margin should be 15–20% (Source: This Old House).

6. Talk Money

Another telling sign can be when the contractor asks to be paid. Keeping in mind the numbers you received from the above paragraph, ask yourself how much it should cost to get the project started. Asking for 50% up front, for example, could be a sign that they are worried you will not want to pay as much when the work is done. Have an open conversation, but heir on the side of caution when it comes to asking prices.

This Old House recommends the following payment schedule “10 percent at contract signing, three payments of 25 percent evenly spaced over the duration of the project, and the final 15 percent when you feel the project is 100% completed”.

7. Making the Decision

The lowest offer is not always your best friend. Take a look at the numbers you have and compare them to the quality of conversation you’ve had with contractors and their history. A low bid can seem great, until it is coupled with cheap materials and shorter-lasting quality. Choose to invest in your living space by staying within a price you’re comfortable with but looking for quality technical skill and materials.

Going too low usually means less quality, but at the same time, you should not go too high either. During many renovations, unexpected problems are uncovered while the project is occurring. You can’t leave yourself with a ripped up home, so you might have to think about what each price would look like with a little bit of a buffer for these cases.

8. Write it Up

The final step in any reliable contractor’s eyes will be to draw up a contract which includes an overview of the project. This should include the payment schedule you initially outlined; proof of liability insurance; any payments you have made out to the worker and when; a start date and projected end timeframe; specific materials and products you’ve agreed upon; and a requirement that the contractor doesn’t obtain lien releases from all subcontractors and suppliers. Any reasonable and professional contractor will happily agree to these requirements, which also help build trust between you and your builder. Make sure you get this waiver signed by both yourself and the contractor looking for perform work for you.

More guidance courtesy of prettyhandygirl.com: The general liability insurance certificate should have your name and address included in the certificate holder’s field. A lien waiver release will protect you should the contractor fail to pay their subcontractors. This means that if you don’t get this form signed and the subcontractors fail to get paid, a lien can be placed on your house until they receive payment.

9. One Last Thing…

One last thing to let them know is about a new service in the New England area called PartRunner. PartRunner is a last-mile logistics service, which can deliver bulky materials from any A to B. By using PartRunner, your contractor can remain on-site and get any last-minute materials shipped directly to them. They won’t need to worry about having to leave and drive to a supplier and back, because one of our Runners can take the order request and get them any product in under 2 hours. And it’s not just for construction workers; anyone who ships big and bulky material can use PartRunner to move items all over New England. Check us out at partrunner.com/en/!

Sources:

prettyhandygirl.com

thisoldhouse.com

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