Questions You Must Ask
Q. Can I meet the owner?
Introducing you to the owner says this company’s serious about your business.
The boss should take a personal interest in the work being done in your home, and never be too busy to meet with you one-on-one. This guy decides policies, service levels, and payment strategies that affect you, and understands the meaning of the phrase: “The buck stops here.”
Insist on meeting the owner to get the attention you deserve and are paying for.
Q. Do you guarantee your prices?
Many homeowners discover all costs are not included in their project estimate after hiring a contractor who provides a “low-ball price”. He presents this low price knowing in advance he will submit sub-standard blueprints that the city’s building department will absolutely reject. This rejection, in turn, provides someone to blame when costs go up “unexpectedly”.
Any competent contractor should be able to estimate the complete cost associated with remodeling your home, and guarantee that it won’t change a penny, if he legitimately includes all his anticipated costs up front and doesn’t play games. If he anticipates any surprises, they should be identified upfront. Naturally, if you change the project after it’s been quoted, the price should be expected to change too.
Q. Are you a member of a trade organization?
Remodelers who actively participate in NARI (National Assn. of the Remodeling Industry), NAHB (National Assn. of Home Builders) and similar organizations are more likely to be current in their training and be knowledgeable about construction codes and materials.
Trade association members can also increase their credibility by having their references, capabilities, credentials and background approved for working with the public.
Q. What kinds of projects and work do you do?
Beware of any contractor saying he does everything related to remodeling. Odds are excellent he’s really good in one type of construction (commercial, tract, residential or custom), but is just taking on other work because he needs to keep staff busy until business picks up again.
As each type of construction project requires specific skills and follows different construction codes, try to hire the right kind of experience for the work you’re having done in your home.
Q. Do you carry commercial general liability insurance?
One sure sign of stability for a contractor is his decision to carry general liability insurance. While not necessary to do remodeling, such insurance shows a commitment to protecting your property in case of damage caused by the contractor or his employees.
The state strongly recommends that all contractors carry insurance, and we strongly recommend you require a minimum policy of one million dollars when selecting your contractor.
Q. Are you getting a permit?
Despite what anyone may tell you, most construction projects — including plumbing and electrical relocation projects — require a city-issued building permit.
While this means paying a few dollars more to ensure everything is done properly, having that permit means all construction codes are being adhered to and your home won’t be in danger of electrical fire or numerous other potential problems. It also means you won’t have to pay fines, penalties, or need to return the site to its original condition if it comes out you didn’t get a permit when you should have.
Since many homeowners insurance policies require permits on any major remodeling in order to maintain your coverage, having that permit also immediately eliminates a major stumbling block in case you ever need to file a claim…even if it’s years from now.
Q. What if your plans don’t meet Building Department requirements?
Unorthodox contractors can anticipate when the city will reject their construction plans. With the homeowner now vested in the project, additional costs can be added without fear of the customer walking away. The resulting cost can be significantly higher than what was originally quoted.
A customer who balks at this stage can easily find the entire project halted until the additional bills are paid. Find a contractor whose planning process anticipates uncomfortable surprises and prevents them from derailing your project…and your budget.
Q. When and how is the project scheduled?
You’ll encounter two types of home remodeling firms, and should find one that suits your personal style. Their project scheduling style is generally indicative of the quality of work you’ll receive from them throughout your relationship.
Many firms schedule each project at the beginning of each day, with little thought to the plans of their suppliers, sub-contractors, or clients. Such contractors generally end up stressed and stretched by the sheer volume of fires they need to put out in a given day.
A few remodeling contractors are known for their organized, well-considered schedules of events and milestones that are provided to homeowners prior to any work being initiated. This allows the homeowner to plan vacations, budgets and other needs with a minimum of disruption to the family’s life.
Whichever scheduling style you opt for, request a calling list of whom you can reach (and whether you’re calling a cell number, answering service, or office machine) in case you have a problem and need to make your own last-minute changes to the schedule.
Q. Have you ever been sued?
No matter how careful your contractor may be, mistakes and disagreements will happen. And just being sued isn’t necessarily a bad thing…unless it happens a lot.
Try to find a contractor who hasn’t been sued much or at all, which indicates happy customers. If they have been sued, look for a firm with no judgments against it, since that indicates they didn’t necessarily do anything wrong.
Q. What paperwork is needed to start a project?
All California home improvement contractors are required, without exception, to provide the following items to anyone hiring them for a remodeling contract.
- A written checklist for homeowners
- 3-day notice of cancellation-if agreement is signed in your home
- Estimated start and end dates
- Written descriptions of the work being done
- A schedule of payments
- A notice to owner (i.e. a warning notice describing liens that may be placed against the property if scheduled or unscheduled bills are not paid promptly)
- Information about commercial general liability insurance
- California license law notice
Remember: No matter what the project or how good the contractor’s reputation, there’s always something that can go wrong! Determine in advance if there’s an answering service or some other way to reach the contractor quickly outside normal business hours.
Finally, ask to see some of his jobs currently in progress, both to see the quality of his work and so you can speak to real homeowners who are experiencing what you will soon experience.