Design for Conscious Living - Important Questions to Ask When Hiring a Contractor - Contractor at Work - Photo by Hengstream on Upsplash

Occasionally when I’m working with a homeowner they will ask me if I can recommend a contractor for their project. My reply is always a variation of the following:

I can recommend contractors to you, but you will have to vet them yourself. The recommendations I make are people/companies I have had good experiences with, to date. However please proceed knowing it is impossible for me to ensure that you will have the same experience that I have had.

This might sound like a negative reply, but it’s an honest one and a necessary one. I can work with a company 10 times and each time be very satisfied with their conduct and their work. But that does not ensure problems won’t arise on the next project. Something as simple as a personality clash can strain the relationship between contractor and homeowner. Furthermore we are all human; we are all susceptible to the experiences of death, sickness, financial challenges, and hardship.

I ask homeowners to thoroughly interview everyone who is recommended to them. In the end, when all the questions have been answered to their satisfaction, I advise them to hire the contractor/company they feel they have the best connection with. On a large project you could be working with your contractor anywhere from 3 months to 2 + years.

Here is a summary of some key questions you should be considering when hiring a contractor. Decide which ones are relevant to you and your project. There are many great resources online to further support and enrich this list.

Company Information & History
It is good to have some history on the company/contractor that you might be working with. How are they set up and how do they run their business.

Key Questions:

  • how long they have been in business
  • their relevant education and training, skills acquired (carpentry, plumbing etc.)
  • the size of the company; how many people; do they have any full-time crew
  • are they licensed and with what body; do they have a business number
  • are they part of any associations; what standards does that association hold them too
  • has the contractor/company ever operated under a different name
  • has the contractor/company ever declared bankruptcy, been sued, or sued anyone before
  • is the contractor currently involved in a lawsuit
  • do they have an office or work from home; and do you have access to that address

What Services Do They Offer
You want to make sure you hire a contractor/company that is the right fit for your project.

Key Questions:

  • the size and type of projects they work on
  • the minimum project budget they are interested in; some companies for example will only work on projects with budgets $100,000, or $500,000 and up
  • what kind of services do they take care of, sub-contract out, or provide in house (architectural, engineering, permit applications, inspections)

Ask the contractor/company for additional references from past clients. These references could also come from trades, architects, and designers. It is rare in our current hyper online-media climate for a professional company not to have a website and online review platform. Do your homework online as well?

Workers Compensation & Business Liability Insurance
If the contractor/company you are interested in working with does not have workers compensation and business liability insurance… wrap it up and walk away. They are not for you. If they are covered in both of these areas then you can ask for copies of the insurance certificate and proof of workers compensation. Check how much coverage they have and ask for proof of renewal if the certificate is set to expire before your project is finished. Also make sure the insurance coverage is adequate for the size of your project.

How Does the Company/Contractor Work?
What should your expectations be, and what is expected of you, when you hire your contractor.

Key Questions:

  • review a copy of the contractors standard contract; what are the general payment terms; what are the warranties on work
  • what are the payment terms they agree to for trades and subcontracts; are payments always made on time
  • what work does the contractor subcontract out to other companies; what do they do themselves
  • how many projects are they working on at one time
  • how does the contractor communicate with clients; how often and by what methods
  • what does the contractor expect the client to provide and pay for on top of the contracted work.
  • how tidy do they keep the job site, and with what frequency is it tidied
  • who is on site everyday; who manages the project; who handles scheduling and/or how is it managed

You can conduct the most thorough interview when vetting your contractor, but if it’s not in writing, it’s as good as never being said. Take notes during an interview, summarize the responses in a document, and have the contractor confirm in email or written form that your summary is accurate.

Design for Conscious Living® is a leading expert in interior and exterior design. Whether you are looking for someone to do the work for you, or hold your hand in the process, let us guide you in making sure your project is a success.