Finding the right contractor is probably the single most important decision you will have to make regarding your home improvement project – even more so than the design itself. The best design in the world will only come to fruition and provide satisfaction if it is built properly! Many contractors will not volunteer the kind of information that you need to make the right decision – especially if their answers are not what you want to hear! Make sure you read this report to learn not only the right questions to ask, but also the right answers to receive.
7 Questions to Ask a Contractor
The critical success factor in any construction project is the contractor. A qualified, professional, experienced contractor knows what results are required for Owner satisfaction, as well as what will lead to dissatisfaction down the road.
Allow yourself a minimum of 1 hour to sit down with each contractor. You will be surprised at how many options and questions can be discussed with a professional contractor. Both of you need to explore the problems, products, and prices together.
Taking only 1 hour of your time meeting and qualifying the contractor, prior to awarding your project, can save you endless hours dealing with dissatisfaction.
Most dissatisfaction involves an Owner who did not fully know what s/he selected or committed themselves to. Professional contractors will take pride in their work and will have no problem discussing your options, their previous experience, and their list of satisfied customers.
Remember to ask the following 7 questions to make sure you select the best contractor for your next project:
Does the Contractor have a permanent place of business?
All Contractor Selection Guidelines start with this question because most dissatisfaction involves low-bid under-capitalized contractors. If the contractor is not permanently established, how can you be confident s/he will complete the work – or will still be in business tomorrow to handle any problems?
Automatically reject any contractor without a permanent place of business.
The courts are full of dissatisfied Owners with worthless judgments against insolvent contractors.
While there is no way to guarantee any business is financially stable, there are some tell-tale signs and precautions you can take to protect yourself and assure your satisfaction.
Visit the contractor’s place of business. Does it look like it has been established there for a long time? Does it appear that the equipment, manpower, and wherewithal is available to complete your project in a professional and timely manner?
Automatically reject any bid from a contractor without substance.
Do not be swayed by personable contractors or their attractive low prices. It is not worth the risk. Select only a contractor that is financially committed to the business. Select someone you can call if a problem arises in the future.
A professional contractor will have no problem giving you a tour of the facilities and providing whatever financial proof is required for your peace of mind. Don’t be timid about asking. Professionals respect these questions and know that time is being well spent with an intelligent buyer.
Does the company carry insurance and is the coverage adequate?
When deciding on a contractor, be sure that the company can provide specific, detailed information about their insurance coverage. They should be able to provide the name and phone number of their insurance agent so you can verify everything.
This is the second most important question. Owners have been financially harmed by uninsured or inadequately insured contractors.
Automatically reject any contractor without proper and adequate insurance.
A contractor should provide you with a Certificate of Insurance for Comprehensive Liability, Worker’s Compensation, and Completed Operations Insurance that protects you in the event of an accident or provides financial coverage for a failed project. The insurance should be adequate to cover the property.
Contractors may also carry other forms of insurance such as health insurance and vehicle insurance. Do not be confused by these policies. Do not allow contractor to pass off these policies as proof of “contractor’s” insurance.
Call the insurance company and verify coverage.
Contractor insurance policies are for one year, and unscrupulous contractors have been known to modify the dates. Check carefully the dates on the Certificate of Insurance. Are they current?
Worker Accidents: Be aware that Owners are sued for injuries on their property. Most Owner Insurance Policies exclude outside contractors, so it is critical to make sure there is proper and adequate coverage. Don’t be fooled by the contractor who says he doesn’t need insurance because he is self-employed.
A tell-tale pattern of an uninsured or under-insured contractor is the low bid. Be very wary of the low bid. Also be wary of multiple low bids. You may have several uninsured contractors bidding the project.
Today, insurance to protect workers and your property is a significant cost of a construction project. For example, Worker’s compensation premiums are typically no less than 20% on top of the worker’s wage and can go as high as 100%, depending upon the type of work. The contractor working without insurance saves between 20% and 100% of labor cost by operating without insurance, but this puts you at great risk. The contractor working without insurance generally has no assets and nothing to lose, so you, as the Owner, are totally exposed to any losses.
A professional contractor will readily provide you with a Certificate of Insurance and phone numbers you can call for verification.
Job Site Safety: Safety violations are now causing projects to be shut down and penalties are levied against involved parties. Some Owners have been stuck with incomplete projects due to violations and the contractor’s unwillingness to pay fines or return to the site. In some cases, the Owner can be classified as the employer, and they can be, and have been, found responsible for the fines.
Ask contractors about their Safety Plan, which is required by OSHA.
Professional contractors will readily provide you with a Safety Plan so you are protected. The Safety Plan, or lack thereof, is another tell-tale sign of professionalism.
Is the company a licensed, registered contractor and a member in good standing of a trade association?
Automatically reject any contractor who is not licensed.
However, do not be fooled by a contractor with a license. Generally, the license requirements are minimal and the law is generally poorly enforced. A better test is to question the contractor’s commitment to the trade. Is the contractor a member of the trade association?
Call the association and verify the answer. Ask if the contractor is taking Continuing Education Training similar to other up-to-date professionals. Ask to see certificates. A professional contractor will be only too happy to respond to these questions.
Reject the contractors who blow off your questions as unimportant. There are probably a lot of other issues they will deem unimportant and blow off; one might be your satisfaction.
NOTE: Grennan Construction is a member of CCN, the Certified Contractors Network. CCN is an elite group of highly qualified Contractors dedicated to providing only the very best contracting experience for its clients.
How long has the company been in business?
Needless to say, the more experienced the better. Under five years is often a tell-tale sign of a potentially unstable business. Most contracting businesses (90%) fail within the first five years. Examine new business with extra care before awarding the project.
Check references carefully. Current references are only valuable to see if the Owner is happy with the contractor’s work, but only long-term references are proof of the actual performance of the contractor’s work.
Most failed construction projects do not happen quickly; rather, they deteriorate over a period of years. New project references should carry minimal weight in the decision-making process vs. long-term projects.
Professional contractors will gladly provide references and want you to speak with their past customers.
Automatically reject any contractors who can not, or will not, provide a reference list of customers.
What is the contractor’s record for complaint resolution?
Automatically reject any contractors who say they never had a complaint. Even the best contractors find themselves in disputes for one reason or another.
Ask the contractor for the name of a problem account and an explanation of how they rectified the complaint.
Be forewarned that many quality contractors in business for a long period of time, and with thousands of completed projects, are exposed to disputes. The question is not if they have had disputes but what was done about the dispute after it occurred.
TIP: One easy way to find out how a contractor handles customer complaints is by contacting the Better Business Bureau. Please call (248) 223-9400 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What is the company’s workmanship warranty?
Typically, contractor workmanship warranties are for one year or more. Longer warranties are not more valuable than shorter warranties. The length of the warranty is less important than the intent and ability of the contractor to stand behind this warranty. The professional contractor often performs well beyond the written warranty period because s/he knows that this is what builds customer loyalty and referrals.
Automatically reject any contractor with an unbelievable warranty. The warranty is just a sales tool to that contractor, and you don’t know what other “bill of goods” you have been sold.
The long-term warranty is provided by the manufacturer. It is critical to be assured that the product will be installed according to the manufacturer specifications or there will be no warranty, regardless of the documents you received. With many materials, the warranty is often only valid if the contractor is “Certified” to install the product.
Ask to see the contractor’s training and certification certificate from the manufacturer. Call the manufacturer to determine if it is valid and if the contractor is still in good standing.
Professional contractors will have no problem providing this proof; in fact, they will usually present their credentials before being asked.
Does the company provide sufficient details for the project being performed?
Contractors should be able to clearly explain how they plan to perform the work and what materials they plan to use.
Compliance with local ordinances: Question the contractor about what is required. Contact the local building department for verification. Question if the permit is included in the cost and who is responsible for obtaining the permit.
Product Selection: Make sure the proposal includes a specific reference to the product and color you have chosen. Your proposal will be your proof of purchase in later years.
Manufacturer Warranty Specifications: If the project is to be warranted by a manufacturer, confirm that the agreement states that the work will conform to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Payment Terms: Schedule, terms., and method of payment should be clearly detailed in the agreement. Establish an agreement regarding a retainer if a certain portion of work is left incomplete or there is a “punch list.”
Preliminary Inspection: Plan to meet with the Job Foreman responsible for your satisfaction. Make sure s/he fully understands the specifications and promises made by the company. Establish the condition of the property before the work starts In the event there is property damage during construction,