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June 14, 2018


5 Questions To Ask Your Contractor


question marks coming out of wrench setPopular TV shows may make home renovations look easy, but sometimes parts of the project are best left to the pros. General contractors, or GCs, are the ones who can make your visions a reality. But from checking references and licensing to financing work and setting a timeline, hiring a GC can feel like job of its own.

1. What are your qualifications?

Find out how long your contractor has been working in the area. “Five or more years of experience is a good benchmark,” says Roth; and a general-contractor license is a non-negotiable. “Ask for a license number and call the local department of consumer affairs to see if there are any existing complaints,” he says. Trades like plumbing and electric have separate licensing—so make sure you inquire about these too, if your project will require these services.

2. What insurance do you have?

All contractors should have general-liability coverage as well as workers’-compensation and disability policies. Roth advises notifying your own insurance company of the scope of your renovation—and suggests having an agent review the contractor’s insurance to make sure there are no gaps in coverage. An agent should also be able to tell you what is protected by your homeowners insurance policy.

3. What is the timeline for my project?

Start by asking how long the work will take and whether you need to seek an alternate residence or make other arrangements for bathing, cooking and/or sleeping. And remember, the best way to keep any pro on task is by paying on time. According to Roth, a 10 percent down payment is standard for the industry. “From there, you want to pay either slightly ahead of the work or right behind it,” he says. The key is setting up payments based on milestones reached or percentages of the job completed—whichever you and your contractor prefer.

4. Will this require a permit?

“In general, anything that involves an architect will require a permit,” says Roth. In some areas, homeowners can pull their own documentation, but pros know the proper channels, says Roth, and can probably do it faster. Obtaining the proper permits and documentation is key to starting a new project on your home. If work is done without these things, it may not be completed to code—which could result in unsafe living conditions and could become an issue if you go to sell your house.

5. Who are your main suppliers?

If you have the time and your project isn’t too big, consider sourcing your own materials. Many contractors will gladly refer you to their suppliers—and pass along your project’s specs as well as their contractor’s discount, without markup, so you can order items directly. While you’re at it, ask suppliers how they like working with your prospective contractor.


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