Interviewing Your Contractor

All of these topics are typically covered by Houseworks Unlimited, Inc. either during the initial phone call, or when a representative comes to your home for a site evaluation.

Specifics such as project supervisor and project specific information is reviewed at the “Pre-Construction Meeting” that is held prior to the start of the project. This meeting lays the groundwork for the production staff and establishes lines of communication. It takes place at the site before construction begins. The owner, production manager/lead carpenter, along with the homeowner and any specialty trades people all meet to review the details of the drawings, specifications, site conditions and special requests the homeowners have regarding their project and how their

All construction documents are reviewed for clarity and interpretation. Anticipated schedule of events are discussed that will take place in the first stages of the remodeling process.

  • Are you licensed?

    Most states require contractors, even sub-contractors to be licensed. Make sure your contractor is properly licensed. Anyone can say they are licensed. Make the contractor prove it by either showing you the license or giving you a copy of it. Remember to check the expiration date. Being licensed is the law. If a contractor cannot produce a valid license, DO NOT HIRE HIM! You can check the contractor’s current licensing status with your states licensing board (MHIC).

  • Who will be assigned as Project Supervisor for the job?

    Make sure the contractor or his foreman is on the job whenever work is being performed-especially if sub-contractors will be used. The responsible party must be familiar with every aspect of your project. You cannot be worried about what is going on when you are not there. Also ask whom you should contact if the supervisor is not available. Get exact names and contact phone numbers for all persons who will be involved in the project.

  • What is the time frame for starting the project?

    Now is the time to ask questions about work schedules. You should ask: What is your estimate for completion? How early will your crew normally begin work? When will they normally quit for the day? Will I be contacted about delays or changes in the schedule? By whom? A solid contractor will be able to give you a start and end date, weather permitting. Make sure to ask if he’s working on other projects. Remember, if he has too much on his plate, the contractor may not give your project the attention it deserves.

  • What is your approach to a project of this scope?

    This will give you an idea of how the contractor works and what to expect during the project. Listen carefully to the answer. This is one of the big indicators of the company’s work ethic.

  • How do you operate?

    In other words, how is your firm organized? Do you have employees or do you hire subcontractors? If you do have employees, what are their job descriptions? Do you use a project supervisor or lead carpenter to oversee the project? It’s best to have someone coordinating the work and supervising the subcontractors while its being done, versus having to go back and make corrections upon completion. Other firms will have additional positions. You should know what parts of your project will be handled by staff, and which will be contracted out to independent contractors.

  • What happens if I change my mind about something?

    This is an important one….. Details on paper may alter once they take shape in the physical world. A reliable builder uses written change orders to manage the process. This form goes over the initial changes, and describes the cost to both the owner and contractor. It’s best to steer clear of individuals who state “Let’s go ahead and get started and we’ll see what happens” or “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it”.

  • Is your company a full-servce or specialty firm?

    If you are planning a small project, say replacing the bathroom plumbing, or updating lighting, you may be better off hiring a specialty plumbing or electrical firm. However, if your project involves multiple changes, entire rooms or additions, you should consult a full service or design-build firm.

  • Do you have design services available?

    If you are considering a large or involved project, you will need design services. If the contractor does not have design-build capabilities, you should consider hiring an architect. Has he worked with an architect before? How closely are you willing to work with my ideas? Depending on the size and scope of the project, you may need a structural engineer, which the contractor should be familiar with. Discovering how willing the contractor is to working with outside suggestions. Disagreements on design, materials etc. may lead to project stagnation.

  • Does your company carry general liability and worker’s compensation insurance?

    Make sure your contractor carries general liability insurance. This type of insurance protects your property in case of damage caused by the contractor and/or his employees. The insurance company will pay for the cost of replacing, and/or repairing any damage that occurs. Anyone can say they are insured. Make the contractor prove it by having a certificate of insurance. Make sure your contractor carries workers’ compensation insurance. It protects you from liability if a worker is injured while on your property. Be aware that if the contractor does not carry workers’ compensation coverage, you may be liable for any injuries suffered by the contractor, or any of his employees on your property. In short, it is much safer to deal with a fully insured contractor.

  • Are you a member of NARI or NAHB?

    NARI stands for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and NAHB stands for the National Association of Home Builders. It’s always a good idea to consider hiring a NARI or NAHB contractor. In most cases, both organizations only attract conscientious contractors interested in bettering the industry and in weeding out unprofessional contractors. In order to become a member, the contractor’s background and references are thoroughly investigated.

  • May I have a list of references for projects you have completed which are similar to mine?

    The contractor should be able to supply you with a minimum of three references, including names, telephone numbers and addresses. As a follow up to this question, ask how long ago the project was completed and if the contractor can arrange a visit to see the finished job. You should also ask for professional references from suppliers or subcontractors to verify sound business practices.

  • Do you guarantee your work? Do you guarantee your work will meet up to my standards?

    Check to see if the contractor is willing to take care of any problems associated with the project that may crop up in the next few months. If he considers the project done after the final inspection, this may not be the right person for the job. Your contractor should guarantee his work for at least one year from date of completion. They should also include any warranties from the material used if applicable.

  • How long have you been in business?

    Look for a company with an established business history in your community. Surviving in any business in today’s competitive marketplace is a difficult task. 9 out of 10 contractors fail in the first 5 years. Of those that survive, 9 of 10 fail in the next 5-10 years. Most successful contractors are proud of their history in the industry.

  • Are you or any of your company’s employees certified?

    Trade certifications are good indicators of dedication, professionalism and knowledge of the industry. Remodelers are required to meet certain industry criteria to maintain their certifications. NARI offers six designations: Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS), Certified Remodeling Associate (CRA), Certified Kitchen & Bath Remodeler (CKBR), Green Certified Professional (GCP) and Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC).

  • What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business?

    This will give you a good indication about the company’s customer satisfaction. According to research conducted by NARI, most remodeling businesses attribute over 50 percent of their annual volume to customer referrals; Houseworks Unlimited, Inc. attributes up to 90 percent.

  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the past 12 months?

    This will help you determine the contractor’s familiarity with your type of project. You should confirm that a good portion of those completed projects were similar to the type of project you are proposing.

  • Will we need a building permit for this project?

    Most cities and towns require permits for building projects. Failure to obtain the necessary permits or to arrange obligatory inspections can be illegal. In some cases, if a project violates a zoning law or some other regulations, it may even have to be demolished if there is no way to comply with the law. A qualified remodeling contractor will be conscious of the permit process, and ensure that all permits have been obtained before initiating any work. This is very important. When a contractor pulls the required building permits, you know things will be done to “code.” Also, many homeowners insurance policies require pulling a permit on any major remodeling to keep your home properly covered. Not all contractors will do this. Many prefer not to pull permits because of the time involved and the “hassle” with the inspectors. Some contractors may ask you to get the permits. This could be a warning sign that they are not able to pull the permit because they are either unlicensed or the work is outside of their license. A reputable contractor will permit every job where a permit is required.

  • Do you guarantee your work? Do you guarantee your work will meet up to my standards?

    Check to see if the contractor is willing to take care of any problems associated with the project that may crop up in the next few months. If he considers the project done after the final inspection, this may not be the right person for the job. Your contractor should guarantee his work for at least one year from date of completion. They should also include any warranties from the material used if applicable.

  • How do you handle “dirty work”?

    Construction is dusty and dirty! It gets everywhere, especially if any sanding is being done. Make sure the contractor will make an honest effort to keep the dust contained, or notify you when the heavy dust generating operations will take place so you can place sheets over furniture or move sensitive belongings. Make sure the contractor agrees to sweep up and place all construction debris in a predetermined place or refuse container at the end of every day.

  • Ask yourself: “Do I feel comfortable with and trust the person I am about to hire?”

    Of the many questions you can ask during an interview, the most important question is the one you must ask yourself. Your answer to that question should make the hiring decision a little easier.

  • Is your company EPA Certified?

    With all the new changes the EPA has enacted recently, make sure the company working on your home is a Lead-Safe Certified Firm. If you have a home that was built prior to 1978 and you do renovation that disturb more than 6 sq ft of painted surfaces, you must put in place safe work practices.

  • Are your employees Certified Renovators with the EPA?

    Firms must have one or more “Certified Renovators” assigned to jobs where lead-based paint is disturbed. To become certified, a renovator must successfully complete an EPA or State-approved training course conducted by an EPA or State-accredited training provider and pass written exam.