How to Interview Contractors & Check ReferencesBelow are questions to ask to conduct a thorough interview with a prospective contractor.
After the Interview
- How long have you been in business?
It usually takes several years for a business to become established and financially sound. You will want to make sure the company is still in business after the job is complete to service any warranty issues.
- Do you have a contractor’s license?
Check here to see if a specific trade requires licensing in your state and a link to their search page: https://www.angi.com/angi-license-check.htm
- What is the size of your company, and do you do the work or hire subcontractors? This will let you know if and when the owner, lead, staff, or specific subcontractors will be on the job and the skill level of those involved.
- How did you get started in the business?
Find out their background, education, and training to make sure that they have both the required technical and business skills to provide you with quality services and to ensure that they run a solid company.
- What services do you perform?
Check out their website to see what projects they build. It will give you an idea of their capabilities.
- Could you send me a copy of your workers’ compensation and business liability insurance?
A professional contractor will be willing to provide you with proof of their Workers’ Compensation and Business Liability Insurance. If sub-contractors are involved, ask if they are covered under their worker’s compensation and liability insurance. Remember that hiring someone who is not properly insured could put you at considerable risk, legally and financially.
- Will you obtain the permits and set up the inspections for this job?
Remodeling projects that change the structure of the home usually do require permits and inspections. However, every job does not require them. Your contractor will know and should handle pulling the permits and setting up the inspections.
- Do you provide a warranty?
If the contractor does not offer a warranty for their work, you need to find one that does. A professional company will spell out in a written warranty what they cover and for how long they cover it. Professionals will also promptly follow-up if there are problems or if defects are found in their work. It is important to check with past customers about how well the contractor honored their warranty and any service they performed in honoring the warranty.
- Could you give me three references?
Request a contact list of at least three of the contractor’s past customers for whom they did similar projects so that you can get references from them. If the contractor is reputable, they will be proud of their work and will be happy to provide this information. If they refuse this information, don’t go any further. You should never hire anyone who refuses to give you references from prior jobs. Check the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) to see if any issues were reported and how they handled them. You can also check review sites, Angi, and look at your state's online judiciary case site to see if they have been sued.
- Could I visit a current job site?
If you can, visit one of your contractor’s current job sites. In doing so, you can learn a lot about how they operate. Take note of how well the materials, tools and surroundings are organized, how neat the site is and any measures that have been taken to protect the homeowner and their property.
- Get a contract. You shouldn’t have to ask for one.
The contract should include a description of the work that is agreed upon, the actual materials to be used, the responsibility of both you and your contractor and the price you will have to pay for the job and payment schedule. If you don’t have these things in writing, there is no proof about what you and your contractor agreed to. If they are not willing to give you a written contract, don’t hire this contractor and stop the interview. You need to always get everything in writing when hiring any contractor.
- What experience do you have with this type of project?
It is important to know if a contractor has experience and how much experience they have in doing projects like yours. Make sure that you have the right kind of contractor for your project and that he/she has been frequently involved in projects like yours. Ask them how many similar
- What ideas do you have about this project? Are their ways to get more value for my money? Include questions about whether they would assist you in choosing the right products for your job and within your budget. Ask for their ideas. Their experience and craftsmanship can offer you a design you many not have thought of. And sizing the project to use lumber standard lumber size lengths will also save them time and you, money. You also need to ask them if a design and working drawing is necessary before they can give you a firm contract price. Find out who would be responsible for cleaning up the work site each day during the job and after it is complete.
- How long will this project take?
When do you have time to take on this project? When can you start the job? How long will it take? What would the schedule be like? Could they fit it in my deadline (if you have one)? How much and how long would it disrupt your household?
- What is a ballpark cost estimate?
Compare their figure with that of other contractors for the same exact work to help you make your choice about which contractor to use. While price isn’t the only factor, it is an important one when doing any building or remodeling project, especially if there is a big discrepancy between the quotes you are given. When you get ready to sign the contract, the contractor should be able to give you a final price that would be written into the contract. If he refuses to do so, find someone else to do the work for you.
While you are getting to know the contractor, they should be getting to know you and your project and what you expect out of them as a contractor. You can tell their interest level if they are listening carefully, taking notes, offering ideas and suggestions, and asking the right questions of you. You should be able to decide at the end of the interview if they understand what you want and if they can help you get it done. By this time, you should be confident in the contractor. Otherwise, you should be ready to find another contractor who can answer your questions satisfactorily and who is attentive to you and your building or remodeling needs.
Download the worksheet for interviewing a contractor.
How to Check Contractor ReferencesContractors have their own strengths and weaknesses. Their prior customers are the best ones to ask about the contractor’s ethics and reliability.
Even if your contractor is willing to provide you with references from these prior customers, it doesn’t automatically mean that they do good work. Don’t take the fact that they are willing to give you a list as an indication of the quality of their work or their integrity. Past customers, even satisfied ones, are the best place to learn a lot about the contractor. So, contact the people on the list and ask questions regarding your prospective contractor.
Only past customers can tell you if the project was kept within their budget, if it was completed on time, and if they were satisfied with the job. They can also tell you if there were any problems or delays and how the contractor dealt with any issues.
We want to reiterate here. If a contractor is not able or not willing to provide you with a list of customer references, you need to find a different contractor to do your job.
At first, it might be a little bit intimidating to call the contractor’s prior customers and quiz them about the contractor’s work ethics and integrity and their satisfaction with the job performed. You need to do this to ensure that you are getting the best contractor for the job and for your own safety and peace of mind.
Before you contact the contractor’s prior customers, have a list of questions made out that you want to ask them, so as not to waste their time or your own. Finally, ask them if they would hire this person again and why they would or wouldn’t do it. This will give you the best reasons to hire this contractor or not.