Hello Blue Collar Workman readers! Today I’ve got a guest post for you from Mike Freiberg of HomeDaddys.
To avoid misunderstandings, cost overruns, and shoddy work, it’s important to have a dialogue with any contractor before you hire them—but many homeowners don’t even know the right questions to ask. Here are a few essential topics to cover before you sign.
Start and end dates are the first thing you want to get from your contractor, but you should also go over the timetable for individual elements of the project. An experienced contractor should have a reasonable idea of how long each step will take, so you shouldn’t work with anyone who can’t give you a date range (If they honestly don’t know, they probably haven’t done that kind of work very often).
Ask for a write-up of the schedule with your contract, including clean-up time, and use this discussion as an opportunity to educate yourself about the labor and materials that will be needed for the project.
2. Are you licensed and insured?
In most jurisdictions, home improvement contractors should not operate without a state license. Having a license doesn’t guarantee quality work, but a contractor who can’t produce a license may have had it revoked due to fraud or violations of local codes.
Also ask if they have liability, property damage, and workers’ compensation insurance. Liability and property damage insurance protects you in case the contractor damages your property (or anyone else’s) while working, and workers’ compensation insurance protects you from civil entanglements if a worker is injured on your property. This insurance is required by law in most jurisdictions, so insist on it.
3. What’s your recent work history?
The best contractor for your job is one who has done similar jobs in the recent past, with a clean record of customer satisfaction. Ask for the contact information of their last few clients, so you can verify their work quality, the professionalism of their employees, and their integrity while discussing timetables and price.
You can also check with the Better Business Bureau, guilds and professional associations, and even local courts to get a reliable picture of their past conduct (the amount of effort you should invest depends on the scope and cost of the project, of course—but in most cases, at least some investigation will be worth the added peace of mind).
4. Who will be involved with the project?
In some cases, the person with whom you negotiate a contract will not be the same person supervising the work, which can lead to miscommunication or difficulties when problems arise on-site. Before you sign, get the contact information of the foreman or supervisor who will be directly responsible for your project so you can talk over your bathroom and kitchen ideas, and make sure they’re on board. Occasionally the team on-site may not speak English, so make sure you have a supervisor you can work with.
It’s also essential to get information on any subcontractors who will be involved with the project. If a contractor doesn’t pay his or her subcontractors honestly, they can go to court and have a mechanic’s lien placed on your property—so make sure your contract stipulates a lien release with each subcontractor and supplier (not just the main contractor) as soon as you pay up.
Your contractor should be able to break down the costs of the project line-by-line, including all labor costs and materials. If there are unknown factors that can influence the cost of the job, discuss them in detail, so you can find an upper and lower bound. Get itemized estimates from several different contractors and compare prices. If there are significant variations in the prices they’re offering, ask about them—cheap bids can sometimes mean shoddier materials, or employees working illegally.
Mike Freiberg is a staff writer for HomeDaddys, a resource for stay-at-home dads, work-at-home dads, and everything in between. He’s a handyman, an amateur astronomer, and a tech junkie, who loves being home with his two kids. He lives in Austin.