Six Questions for Your Contractor

There’s a room in your home in desperate need of repair or perhaps some remodeling you’ve been anxious to have completed. Well, with the help of workshops at your local home improvement store, some inspiring television remodeling programs and a slew of informative Web sites, savvy gals are attempting more home projects on their own. But sometimes you just don’t have the time, skill or circular saw for the job. Thus, the search for a contractor begins.

Many contractors avoid smaller, less profitable jobs, so if you need help with one of those smaller projects, relief is the only thing on your mind when you finally get someone to look at your plans. But, before you rush to sign the contract, take the time to ask a contractor six important questions during the estimate process.

1. Are you insured? True, your job may not be a $100,000 remodel but this is one way of ensuring your contractor is dependable. Any legitimate contractor will be insured and offer to provide you with a copy of the certificate. Also, consider the fact you’ll be letting a stranger into your home. The contact info on his insurance certificate is much more reliable than a business card if anything were to happen (failure to complete job, robbery, etc.) and you or the police need to contact him.

2. Have you done this type of job before? When he says “yes,” follow it up with a request for the phone number of a former client. Don’t be put off by excuses about the privacy of his clients. Every good contractor has a few clients willing to take the occasional call.

3. Who exactly is doing the work? Will the guy with years of experience standing in front of you be doing the work or some high school kid he hired for the summer? If so, how much supervision will the boss be doing? Will he be subcontracting the work out to another contractor whose work you aren’t familiar with? How familiar is he with the subcontractor?

4. How long will this job take? Ask for specifics. Does an “eight hour job” mean he’ll arrive in the morning and the project will be finished by 5 pm or he’ll do 2 hours of work on Monday, 2 hours of work on Thursday, and 4 hours of work 2 weeks from Thursday? Also, find out when your job will be started — the week you give your deposit or next month?

5. What sort of mess will this job make? Find out if walls, ceilings or floors will be ripped up and who will be repairing them. Will you need to cover or move furniture? Also, will he be hauling away old fixtures (sinks, lights, tile) and garbage (wood scraps, empty paint cans) or leaving them for you to handle? Most contractors deal with the mess unless specified otherwise in the contract.

6. What is the payment schedule? Most contractors require half down and half upon completion of the job. Don’t allow anyone to pressure you into paying any amount down until you’ve had a chance to check the references and you have a signed contract. Don’t pay the final half until you’re satisfied everything required by the contract is completed — paying signifies acceptance, which could cause problems if you end up in small claims court.

What should be on my contract?

  • Name and contact info of contractor and client/signatures
  • Description of job (including what happens to project trash)
  • Description of materials to be used
  • Payment plan/amount
  • Estimate of time (weather, other jobs, delivery of material all affect this)
  • Possible problems that may occur and Plan B (for example, if there’s no stud to attach your new ceiling fan, does he have another plan?)
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