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10 Must-Ask Questions When Choosing a Contractor


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Building a custom home is a big investment and time commitment, so it’s important to choose a contractor who is the best fit for you. Asking the right questions can help you determine if you will get along with the contractor and if he/she perform satisfactorily. This can help you avoid stressful delays, unexpected costs, and inferior workmanship. Before you choose a contractor, here are 10 must-ask questions to help you ensure that you choose the right person for the job.

1. How many years have you been in business?

Nothing takes the place of a great track record. A contractor who has an established business in your local area is more likely to have easy-to-check references, as well as long-term, established relationships with subcontractors. You also want a contractor who has been in business long enough to accumulate at least ten to twenty references you can contact. While more experience does not always mean better service, a contractor who has been around for long period of time is more likely to have a proven track record.

2. Can I see a copy of your contractor’s license?

Many states require contractors to be licensed professionals. This helps assure that standards for safety and workmanship will be met. If your state does not require contractors to have a license, research potential contractors to ensure they are licensed by contacting the licensing agency in your state. An unlicensed contractor will not be able to obtain work permits, which will delay the construction of your custom home. If a potential contractor indicates that you will need to acquire these, he is most likely either unlicensed or has had his license revoked. You may also want to check with the Better Business Bureau and your local consumer affairs office for complaints from past clients or sub-contractors.

3. Can I see a copy of your certification of insurance?

Your contractor should have both General Liability insurance for your home and property and worker’s compensation insurance for workers if they are injured while working on your property.You should also ask how much coverage they have (a $500,000 minimum policy is a good start). If the company has started construction on your new home but then it gets destroyed by a tornado or other natural disaster, you want to be sure their general liability insurance will cover the cost to rebuild. If your contractor does not carry insurance, you could wind up being responsible for damages or claims made during the construction of your home. Make sure to check the insurance company’s name and verify that coverage is in place, and not expiring soon.

4. What’s your bid on my job, and how long is it good for?

Make sure to get an itemized, written bid that lists the cost of materials needed, labor, subcontractor fees, and any other expenses. It is also a good rule of thumb to get at least three bids in order to get a sense of average cost in your area. Bids are typically valid for one month. Any contractor who tries to rush you into making a decision or offers a bid that expires within a few days is desperate to get the job and should be avoided.

5. Can you provide a referral list I can contact?

Checking references is one of the only methods for assuring the contractor you choose can get the job done on time and is easy to work with. A reputable contractor will gladly supply you with a list of happy customers. Try to contact those whose jobs took place one to five years ago or longer, in order to determine how the construction is holding up.

6. How is your work guaranteed, and what home warranty do you provide?

You should be provided with the firm’s warranty in writing by the general contractor. Do not accept a verbal agreement. The warranty list should be clear and detailed. Your written guarantee should include clauses that state what the contractor will cover and for how long.

7. What is our schedule?

Ask for a schedule that outlines tasks and timing and gives you a big picture view of sequencing and deadlines. It will also give you a benchmark to know if your project is on track.

8. Who will be on-site managing my project on a daily basis and providing me with updates?

Your contractor is ultimately responsible for any work done within your home. He or his designated superintendent should manage the project on a daily basis. Ask your contractor direct questions about who will be responsible for opening and locking up, who will supervise subcontractors, give you updates, and who to call on a daily basis with any questions. If you are not given a name of a person who will perform this function, don’t hire the contractor.

9. How do I reach you after hours?

Knowing how to reach your contractor in an emergency is just as important as your contractor being able to reach you. Exchange all your numbers—work, cell, landline—so that communication is never an issue.

10. What is the payment schedule, and what kind of documentation will I receive when the project is done?

Different contractors may offer different payment schedule options, but you should never pay the entire amount up front. Establish a payment plan tied to progress and hold back final payment until the job is complete. End-of-job paperwork should be included in your contract. This should include things like lien releases, marked-up plans with as-builts on plumbing and other utilities, copies of inspection reports, and any additional items like operation manuals (and a lesson on operation) for installed equipment and appliances, a list of subcontractors and contact information, and anything else you deem important. Confirming that you will receive these things before you get started will help you ensure that you finish the project with all the information you need.

While the process for building a custom home can be stressful, by choosing the right contractor for your job, you will soon enjoy the benefits and joys of living in a home that is comfortably and uniquely your own.

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