Important Questions to Ask Before Hiring a General Contractor

The planning process is a crucial stage of any home improvement or building project. Part of the process is hiring a general contractor for the job. A solid relationship between client and contractor ensures efficient communication and thorough understanding on both sides. Both parties should come prepared initially with questions and answers to establish the relationship on a firm footing. Here are some important questions to ask a potential general contractor as well as questions you should be prepared to answer.

Questions to Ask a General Contractor About Their Company

hiring a general contractor

You’re about to entrust virtual strangers with one of your most valuable assets — your home. If you are hiring a general contractor with experience and a good reputation, your mind will be at ease. As a preliminary measure, find some online reviews of the contractors you are considering to read what previous clients have to say. Be sure to ask a prospective contractor some, if not all, of the following questions about their company.

How Long Have You Been in Business as a General Contractor?

The longer a company has been in business, the more likely they are to have their process down to a science, which can shave time off of a project. If you’re considering hiring a small or new company with less experience, have them work on a small-scale project before allowing them to tackle a larger, more complex one.

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Do You Have Examples of Your Work and References I May Contact?

A portfolio of work provides a good reference point for the contractor’s quality standards. Make a point to ask for photos of projects similar to the one you’re planning. References will bring those pictures to life, giving you a good sense for what it’s like to work with the contractor from someone with first-hand knowledge. A reputable general contractor will be able to supply multiple references and you should contact all of them. Ask how the contractor handled all aspects of the job including work quality, sticking to the schedule and budget, cleanliness, communication, safety, and any other concerns you may have.

Before hiring a general contractor, contact the Better Business Bureau for information. Also inquire about subcontractors who will work on the job and check their references as well.

Do You Have Insurance and Workers’ Compensation?

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Before hiring a general contractor, make sure they are insured and offer workers’ compensation. You may be surprised to find out how many things can go wrong during a home renovation project. If you’ve selected your contractor carefully, you can expect the best, but make sure they’re prepared for the worst. Accidents can and do happen, so confirm that your contractor is insured for personal property damage along with any structural damage that could befall your home.

Workers’ compensation is just as vital. Remember that you may be held financially liable for anyone who is injured on your property, so a worker who falls down the stairs or trips over debris on the floor can sue you unless other protection is in place. Ask to see the certificates of insurance for proof. Look for a policy with a minimum of $500,000 worth of coverage.

Important Questions About the Project Cost

Can you itemize your estimate?

Understanding the cost of each line item of the project upfront prevents the contractor from using creative arithmetic to cushion the fees. In other words, it prevents you from missing hidden expenses and high markups.

What is the payment schedule?

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When hiring a general contractor, payment in full shouldn’t be demanded up front. Expect to put about 25 percent down at the start of the work. A schedule of subsequent milestones should be established that holds the contractor accountable for progress. The final payment should be expected once the work is complete and you have approved the job.

Do you guarantee your work and for how long?

Both materials and workmanship should be guaranteed for some length of time. After all, if your contractor isn’t willing to stand by his work, why should you be willing to pay for it? The length and type of guarantee will vary between contractors and the type of job, but make sure that a reasonable guarantee is in place, in writing, before the work begins. The best contractors will check up on their work anywhere from 6 months to 2 years after completion to fulfill any warranty obligations — this is the type of contractor you want to work with.

What to Ask About the Project Schedule

What is the expected timeline for the project?

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An experienced general contractor will be able to provide a reasonably accurate timeline for your project, but unexpected obstacles may pop up. Once work begins, your contractor may find damage that needs to be remediated or other adverse conditions, especially in an older house. In this case, ask them to sign a “time and materials” contract, which states in advance the labor rate and materials markup for any additional work that crops up. This protects you from hiring a general contractor who might otherwise be inclined to jack up the rates and leave you stranded when you can’t or won’t pay for the extra work.

Also ask if the company has other ongoing or projected work that may impact the timeline of your project.

How often will you provide progress updates?

Your contractor should be willing to communicate with you regarding progress on a daily basis. A quick 5 to 10 minute check-in is all that is necessary to get caught up with developments, positive and otherwise, and to simply put your mind at ease.

Questions to Ask a General Contractor About the Project Site Operations

Can I meet the project foreman?

The foreman is your project manager and can be the general contractor or someone else. He will oversee every detail of your project and ensure that your feedback is acknowledged and acted upon. The foreman will coordinate the multiple resources that will be required to successfully complete your project.

How will you protect my home from damages and keep it clean?

construction site

Discuss with your contractor the best way to protect your possessions while the work is in progress. Remove all items from the rooms being renovated to give the crew the flexibility they need to work comfortably and without worry. Keep pets and children away from the site.

Find out how the contractor intends to isolate the work area from other parts of the house. Ask about dust-containment measures and whether they intend to leave tools or other items onsite after the workday is finished.

Questions a General Contractor will Ask About the Home and Your Schedule

In order for your general contractor to plan the project and determine whether you are a good fit for their services, they will have questions for you as well.

Will you be home during construction?

Knowing your family’s daily schedule will be very helpful to your contractor. If you work outside of the house, that will give workers a large chunk of the day when they know that their work will not disturb you. The schedules of children, cleaners, or yard workers, and anyone else who may have access to your home should be communicated as a part of the planning process.

What is your goal and vision of this project?

Setting expectations is key when it comes to client satisfaction. Your general contractor will want to ensure that your budget is adequate to achieve your vision, and if it isn’t, he will explain the alternatives.

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What is your preferred start and end date?

Before signing on to a renovation or building project, make sure to think through your schedule carefully:

  • Are there any major life events coming up? Must the work be completed beforehand?
  • Will the work overlap with any periods where you can go on vacation or plan to visit friends or family?
  • Are you expecting your new kitchen to be ready in time for you to host two dozen family members at the holidays?

Find out which are the most critical work periods and plan to be away at those times if possible. Make sure to honestly communicate your schedule and expectations with your general contractor.

What hours can we work during? Are there any days or hours that we cannot?

Flexibility in your schedule will allow the work to be completed in the shortest possible time. However, you may have obligations that are not negotiable. Those who work from home, follow specific religious practices, or have unusual sleep schedules may need to place limits on contractor work days or times.

Important Questions About Your Budget

What is your budget?

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The budget is a very important part of your home improvement project. The best way to stay on budget is to communicate your vision as clearly and as detailed as possible to your contractor. Discuss your wants and needs at length — the more information your contractor has, the better he will be able to estimate costs.

Are you prepared for unexpected costs to arise?

Not every project goes over budget, but many do. It is always wise to allow an extra 10-20 percent of the budget for emergencies and unexpected expenses. It should be specifically called out in your contract that any spending beyond the originally established cost of the project must be approved by you. If there is more than one homeowner, you should specify who is the point of contact for everyday decision making.

Hiring a General Contractor in Delaware County, PA

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Mancill Builders is one of the most experienced general contractors in Delaware County and the greater Philadelphia area. We’ve been building and renovating homes for more than four decades, and our former clients are our biggest fans. If you are hiring a general contractor, call us today to discuss your building or renovation project. We’d be happy to answer all of your questions and put you in touch with homeowners who have worked with us directly. We look forward to working with you!