Before ever signing with a contractor to remodel your home, you will want to talk to several companies to get more information about each.
You can choose to talk with each contractor, conducting a short phone interview as you connect, or you can choose to include a questionnaire as part of a simplified interview process, when asking for bids. It’s up to you, as it is truly a matter of comfort. If you have a lot or contractors to talk to it is easier to compile the interview questions into a single document that you can ask all of the prospective bidders to fill out and return, than it is to spend a lot of time talking on the phone to each one. Either way, it is a good idea to do two things: 1) check with the Better Business Bureau to find out about the contractor’s rating and to see if anyone has ever filed a complaint against the company and 2) get to know each contactor by asking them some questions. Here is a list of question that you should ask in order to receive the necessary information from each contractor:
1. How many years have you been in business?
You want to know how much experience the contractor has.
0 – 3 years can mean the contractor is really new to the profession.
4 – 6 years and they should have some good experience under their belt, but there are still a lot conditions they have never encountered.
7 – 10 years; most conditions are old hat and something new is usually nothing to worry about.
+ 10 years and they are well seasoned and have seen just about everything there is to see.
2. How many years of experience do you have in the construction industry?
You want to get an understanding of how skilled the contractor is beyond the existing business. More years of experience in more parts of the construction industry means the more they will recognize each aspect of the job and better respect for the needs of other trades.
3. How large is your work crew and how many are permanent employees?
You want to know how much of the work the contractor expects to handle with their own crew. The more work they do themselves the more they have control over the quality of work activities. The more they outsource, the more opportunity there is for miscommunication and poor coordination.
4. Which trades does your company typically subcontract?
You want to know how ‘involved’ the contractor intends to be in the actual labor. Are they handling the transitions? If so, they may be better able to actually see if there are quality problems. Are they outsourcing or subcontracting out most or all the trades on your project? If so, they may not be watching closely enough to spot potential problems.
5. Do you require a deposit and if so, how much and what is it used for?
You want to know how financially solid the contractor is. Do they have the resources to mobilize and start construction, or ‘do they need a deposit to get started’ or ‘to buy materials’? If they can get going without an ‘upfront’ payment then they are more financially solid than if they need a deposit. I seldom recommend giving the contractor a deposit, but even I do acknowledge that there are times when doing so can be helpful.
6. What is your current workload?
You want to get a feel for how much attention the contractor can give your project. The fewer their staff and the more projects they’re working on, the more you should be concerned they can’t focus long enough to quickly knock out your job.
7. Do you use project schedules to help manage your projects?
You want to know if this company is organized. The more organized the contractor is, the less you’ll have to worry about. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to worry about anything; you’ll still need to inspect your project. The more disorganized the contractor the more likely for there to be problems, delays and the higher the price tag.
8. If we select you, with your current workload when would you be able to start our project and how soon could you finish?
Here is where you just flat out ask them about their production ability and if they could handle your job IF you select them. You want to see if their time frame fits with your planned schedule. Plus, if you select them this gives you some good contractual start and finish dates that the contractor has voluntarily given you.
9. Can you provide references and pictures of similar work you have completed?
Of course you always want to check up on their work. So asking for references should go without saying, still it is important to ask, so we include it on the list.
10. Are you interested in bidding on the project?
It may seem funny, but I find that this is a really useful question to ask. Occasionally you’ll find a contractor that actually doesn’t want to give you a bid. When you meet that contractor, they will usually let you know right away. It happens for various reasons which we’ll have to cover in another article. The point is that if they do not want to bid the project, don’t take it personally. Be grateful that you know right away. That way you can just move on and you don’t have to spend any time chasing them for a bid you were never going to get.
10.5. We checked and noted that you have a ____________ rating with the Better Business Bureau, can you please explain the reason you think you have this rating.
Of course, if the contractor in question is not even listed with the Better Business Bureau, then you don’t even need to worry about asking this question. However, if you checked and you find that a contractor has a bad review or bad rating, ask them about it. Anyone can have that bad experience that follows them for far longer than they’d like and contractors are no different. Maybe the company was victim of a psychopathic ex-employee, an unusually difficult situation, or maybe the bad rep is for a very good reason. You won’t know if you don’t ask.