Are you planning a home improvement project and struggling to find the perfect general contractor? We understand the challenges of searching for a reliable and trustworthy partner for your construction needs. The process can be complex and time-consuming, but the right general contractor can make all the difference.
To make your journey easier, we've curated a comprehensive list of 19 essential questions to ask when hiring a general contractor. A reputable contractor should be able to provide clear and satisfactory answers to these questions.
Before diving into a building project that's a significant investment of both time and money, it's vital to partner with a licensed general contractor you can trust.
Here's a set of questions to help you assess their history and reputation:
Longevity often indicates reputation and reliability, as construction industry businesses that don't meet these criteria tend to change names to cover up past reputation issues. An established business is more likely to be reputable.
We’d encourage you to look up a contractor on the Better Business Bureau and verify their general contractor license.
It’s important that any construction company can provide you with references that you can speak to, but more importantly, ask for references who have completed a project that is similar to yours so that you can accurately compare apples to apples.
An even smarter move is to ask for past references as well as one current client.
The answer to this question will reveal if subcontractors and specialty contractors are held to the same standard as the general contractor’s employees. If a subcontractor isn’t licensed, bonded, and insured, they can’t legally do work in the jurisdiction.
Ask what the licensing requirements of subcontractors are before the company agrees to work with them.
Follow-up questions could be: Do you maintain $2 million of Liability insurance, Commercial Vehicle insurance, and Workers’ Compensation insurance? If there’s a personal injury or a catastrophic failure caused by their work, are they covered by insurance? Types of insurance: property loss, workers comp, liability. Make sure your contractor meets the minimum standards for your jurisdictions as well as their subcontractors.
Many of these building industry associations have rigorous standards to achieve before a general contractor can join. Plus, it takes continued commitment from the general contractor to maintain good standing with these groups. It also shows a commitment to the community, their business, and others. The requirements to become members of these groups also demonstrate the general contractor is reputable.
Supporting businesses within the community is invaluable, and the stronger the relationships, the stronger the ability the general contractor has to resolve any issues that arise. You can also double-check the reputation of the contractor by going to these local suppliers and asking.
Before it comes time to sign a contract or agreement, it’s acceptable to ask for a blank copy of their agreement template to be reviewed in advance of any money being exchanged. As the consumer, you should be given the time needed to look at it in advance or send it to an attorney to double-check before anything is time-bound.
A trustworthy contractor will be transparent about their construction process and happy to share this information with you in advance.
Explicitly stated price contingencies prevent financial surprises during construction projects.
You want to know upfront if there’s an option for a fixed price. If you’re working off a time and materials or cost-plus agreement, what are the terms of the agreement (hourly rates and % of markup)? By asking these questions, the consumer is eliminating the risk of financial surprises throughout the project.
A detailed schedule sets clear expectations and helps minimize the risk of cost overruns.
Construction work is an inherently disruptive service. Having access to dedicated project management and a clearly documented production schedule for the entire project helps maintain realistic expectations on timelines. It’s important to know that any changes the homeowners make to the project will, in turn, impact the project timeline.
It’s important to know not only what the time impact will be with changes but also the financial impacts of these changes. You want to know upfront what a change order will cost you.
Consider both cumulative experience and experience relevant to your project. For example, let’s say you’re interviewing a general contractor who mostly focuses on remodeling, but you are in need of a large-scale custom home build. Again, being able to compare similar projects is critical in determining the experience a general contractor has.
Although it’s nice to know how many projects a company has completed, the size, the complexity, and the outcome are more important than the number. Jobs done well are more important than jobs done at all.
While many construction contractors don’t have in-house design services, it is a major benefit to the homeowner to have all of these services under one roof.
Working with a design-build team helps streamline your process and fosters an environment of collaboration. This collaboration facilitates your design and budget alignment.
Efficient processes ensure a high standard of service and prevent time and cost overruns. If the contractor doesn’t have proven systems and processes in place, the construction manager running your job will be stretched thin, the process will be less efficient and ultimately will cost you more time and money, and the standard of service will be lowered. Quality goes out the window when things are rushed.
A high-quality contractor will communicate regularly and in a clear manner. Communication expectations should be established and agreed upon individually before the project begins.
A high-quality contractor has its construction workers wear identifiable company clothing and will introduce the homeowner to the team members who will regularly be on their job site. Any reputable business will hold their employees to documented expectations of behavior and substance use. Better Builders has a zero-tolerance policy for any impairment on the job.
Without a daily clean-up procedure, the job site can get messy, disorganized, and unsafe. This is an especially prevalent question for homeowners who plan to occupy the home during construction.
A clean, organized, and safe environment promotes an efficient workspace and keeps subcontractors held to the same standard.
Responsible contractors should offer environmentally friendly options for a healthier home. Many common construction materials are comprised of toxic materials. If you are interested in a lower impact on the environment and your family's health, there's a wide varying range of green building options, and responsible contractors should adopt some green building practices as their baseline product selection installed in your home.
A contractor who provides more than just the state-required warranty is someone who believes in their craftsmanship and quality and will stand behind the final product that’s been produced. Usually, the manufacturer’s warranty covers any product that’s been installed in the home, and the builders’ warranty should cover workmanship—for example, drywall cracks and blemishes, millwork installation, and cabinet and drawer operation. Warranty does not and should not cover normal wear and tear like gouges in hardwood floors from pets and kids, holes in walls from picture hanging, etc.
Any reputable contractor will look for ways to improve the client experience. By asking for constructive feedback, both positive and negative, this will allow them to update processes and systems to improve client experiences and the final product produced.
Finding the right contractor may seem daunting, but taking the time to ask these essential questions on the front end can save you time, money, and stress. This list provides a solid starting point, but for a comprehensive list of 27 questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org and request a personal copy of the checklist! With the right contractor, your home improvement project will be a success.
For more information on bringing the vision of your perfect home to life, download our eBook, “How to Find the Perfect Custom Home Builder: A Guide to Creating Your Dream Home”.
Marin is the Marketing and Communication manager at Better Builders and has experience in Marketing copywriting and content management. Marin loves to deliver educational articles in a way that empowers homeowners and builds confidence in their home renovation journey.