How to Interview a General Contractor

Before you hire a contractor, it is important to talk to them and explain the nature of what you want, and also learn what you can about them and the way they conduct business. I’ve come up with a few questions to act as a starting point for you to ask anyone you’re thinking of hiring to do construction work for you.

First, find out background about their business and experience. Ask how long they’ve been in business, the type of work they’ve done in the past (ask if they have pictures or a website you can see to get ideas), and their license and bond number if they are required to have it. Also ask if they have worker’s comp and liability insurance. You really want to hire someone who is insured, because it will take a lot of responsibility off you if someone gets hurt or there are other problems, for example say the contractor accidentally knocks down the wrong wall. Also ask for references, and then actually contact those references. Find out if the quotes they received were accurate, if they were happy with the work, how any issues that came up were handled, how the contractor and the team conducted themselves while on site, and if they’ve had any issues since the project was completed.

Next, ask questions specific to your project. How long will it take? How will they handle anything unexpected that comes up? How often will the contractor be on-site (the answer to that should be daily). Ask if you’re going to be assigned a project manager, and if so what that person’s name is. Ask what the crew’s work hours will be – set hours mean an organized crew and a better chance of your project being done on time. Also find out how you’ll be notified about progress and/or problems, and how often you’ll receive updates. Ideally, you will get daily reports from the contractor him- or herself, because you want to know that they are overseeing everything and know what is going on with your project.

Finally, get down to the paperwork. Ask to get the timeline and pricing in writing. Talk to the contractor and find out if there are any guarantees for the work they will be doing. Get everything the contractor promises in writing. If, for any reason, you end up having to go to court, it will be your word against theirs – so get them to commit everything to paper. Find out what your payment schedule is going to be like. Never, ever pay the full amount before the work even starts. A good contractor would never expect you to anyway. Also ask if they are willing to put in a termination clause in the contract – this way, if the construction team disappears for a month, you can end the contract without a penalty.

I hope you feel a little less intimidated by the interview process now. Go slow, ask all the questions you have, show the contractor the location of the job and what you want done. Be as detailed as possible. Write down the answers so you don’t have to worry about remembering everything. And if you’re not comfortable interviewing someone, you’re not going to be comfortable having them work on your house, so find another contractor.

Good luck.