5 Essential Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Contractor

Ready to remodel? Here’s how to know who you’re hiring.

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The contractor you pick makes — or breaks — your remodeling project. Finding the right contractor for your job will determine the quality and timeliness of the work and the level of emotional and financial stress you'll have to deal with.

To make sure you’re getting the best work from a contractor, here are five questions to ask the candidates.

Tip: Listen for how prospective contractors answer your questions. Difficulty communicating now means difficulty communicating on the job later.

1. Would You Please Itemize Your Bid?

Many contractors prefer to give you a single bottom-line price for your project, but this puts you in the dark about their charges for each aspect of the job.

For example, if the original plan calls for wainscoting in your bathroom, but you decide not to install it, how much should you be credited for nixing that work? With a single bottom-line price, you have no way to know.

If you get an itemized bid, you can see the costs for all elements of the job, including:

  • Demolition and hauling trash
  • Framing and finish carpentry
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical work
  • HVAC
  • Tiling or other floor covering installations
  • Lighting fixtures
  • Drywall and painting

That makes it easier to compare different contractors’ prices. If you need to cut project costs, you can easily figure your options. Plus, an itemized bid becomes valuable documentation about the scope of your project, which may eliminate disputes later.

Contractors shouldn’t give you a hard time about itemizing their bids. If they resist, it's a red flag for sure. 

2. Is Your Bid an Estimate or a Fixed Price?

Some contractors treat their bids as estimates, meaning bills could wind up being higher in the end. Be sure to request a fixed price bid instead.

If a contractor says they can’t offer a fixed price because the job has too many unknowns, try to eliminate the unknowns. For example, have the contractor open up a wall or examine a crawl space.

If you can't resolve the unknowns, have the project specs describe only what the contractor expects to do. If additional work is needed, you can do a change order — a written mini-bid for new work. 

3. How Long Have You Been Doing Business in This Town?

Contractors who have been plying their trade locally for five or 10 years have an established network of subcontractors and suppliers in the area and a local reputation to uphold. That makes them a safer bet than contractors who are either new to the business or planning to commute to your job from 50 miles away.

Ask for:

  • A business card with a nearby address — not a P.O. box.
  • References from one or two of the contractor's earliest clients. This'll help you verify they haven’t just recently hung up their shingle.

4. Who Are Your Main Suppliers?

Contractors are networked to their suppliers. You can tap into information on your contractor's reliability and level of quality by talking to proprietors of:

  • Tile shops
  • Kitchen and bath showrooms
  • Lumber yards
  • The pro desk at your favorite home improvement center

Ask about a contractor’s professional reputation, whether they have left a trail of unhappy customers in their wake, if they're reliable about paying their bills, and whether they're someone you’ll want to hire.

Contractors should have no qualms about telling you where they get their materials if they're upstanding customers.

5. I’d Like to Meet the Job Foreman — Can You Take Me to a Project They're Running?

Meet the foreman in person and see if their current job is running smoothly. Asking to meet the foreman on the job gives your general contractor an incentive to assign you one of their better crews, since you’re more likely to hire that contractor if you see their A Team.

Many contractors don’t actually swing hammers. They spend their days bidding new work and managing their various jobs and workers. That makes the job foreman — the one who’s working on your project every day — the most important member of your team.

If contractors say they'll be running the job themselves, ask whether they'll be there every day. They'll want to give you a positive response — something you can hold them to later on.


Oliver Marks

Oliver Marks A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.