Top Questions to Ask a General Contractor

Remodeling your home may be one of the biggest tasks you take on throughout the entire year. You want to make sure that the person in charge knows exactly what he or she is doing and how the project should be completed. You’re placing a lot of trust in this person, so it’s important that you feel comfortable with them before hiring him or her.

Trust is probably the biggest factor in hiring a general contractor. You’ve probably heard horror stories from your family members and friends about general contractors whose work fell well below expectations and charged them far beyond what was originally quoted. Now most general contractors are fair and hardworking, but you do want to make sure that you feel comfortable with someone working on your home.

You also need to be confident in your general contractor’s expertise. Some contractors specialize in styles and rooms. Some contractors work exclusively with older homes, and others prefer to do complete guttings. Some prefer to focus on specific rooms, such as kitchens, and prioritize these projects. You want to make sure you have a contractor who has experience working with your type of home and rooms. Experience matters here.

Before you hire someone, read through our list of questions, and by the end, you should be confident in the work of your new general contractor — and don’t forget to schedule a gutter cleaning service for after the remodeling is complete.

General questions

For every type of remodeling project — whether you’re gutting your home or remodeling just one room — you should be asking every contractor you interview the following questions. If he or she cannot answer any of these questions or show proof, then you should not hire that contractor — unless you want to end up paying far more than you bargained for.

Here are the questions you should be asking every contractor:

How long have you been in the business: You don’t need a contractor who’s been in business for decades per se. Depending on the job, you might not need a contractor with a high level of expertise. If you need someone to install new kitchen countertops and cabinets and your kitchen is in otherwise good condition, then someone with only a few years of experience may work well for you. Weigh your need for experience with how difficult the job is.

Are you licensed: You’d be surprised how many people are not licensed to do general contracting work and yet claim to be general contractors. In Texas, there is no specific license needed to become a general contractor unless the contractor is doing work with HVACs, fire sprinkler systems, plumbing, electrical, well drilling or pump installation — so basically everything that you’d probably need done with remodeling your home. Suburbs around Houston may have other licenses and registrations, so make sure you check with your own city so you know what to expect.

Do you have insurance: This should be followed with, “Can I see proof of it?” If your home is damaged or worse someone is injured while completing your work, you will be held responsible if your contractor does not have insurance. You need to be certain that your contractor has insurance before hiring him or her.

What permits or inspections will be needed for this job: If you’re doing a straight remodel, then you probably won’t need a permit or inspection. For big additions, you will probably need a permit to do the work. Your contractor should know what paperwork will need to be filed, but you should also be contacting your city officials or doing some online research to find out what will be expected. 

What does the timeline look like for completion: Every job is different, but your general contractor should give you a general timeline for when the work will start and how long it will take to complete. He or she should be upfront about the number of people needed and available to do the work as well as the cost of materials. It should be expected that this timeline can change for any number of reasons — delay in materials arriving, an unexpected personal issue on either of your parts or inclimate weather — but you should have a good idea of how long this will take.

What will your working day be like: Your contractor should give you a general idea about how he or she works throughout the day. Some contractors like to get done early and leave early while others start a little later. The availability of materials may also play a role, and your contractor may be relying on other people who are providing materials. All of that is okay — you just need to talk it out with your contractor so you’re aware of what to expect. You don’t want to find out later that your contractor doesn’t plan to start working until afternoon or evening when you get home.

What is the payment schedule: No one likes to talk money, but you should be open with your contractor from the very beginning. Your contractor will likely have a payment schedule for all clients, usually with an upfront deposit and the rest paid upon completion. That may change if your project is particularly large and time consuming. Your contractor may set up up on an instalment plan. These are all common payment plans. Make sure you are comfortable with one of them.

Will we have a written contract: If the answer is no, walk away immediately. A contract protects you just as much as it does your contractor, and you need to look it over before signing anything. In particular, make sure you look at:

  • The breakdown of costs: Most contracts will tally up material costs as well as labor costs. If costs look high, ask for an explanation. Also look for any clauses about how you will be charged for materials or labor needed later but not originally budgeted for (if a water leak is discovered, for example). Just make sure you’re aware of how you will be charged.
  • Cancellation fees: If you change your mind, you may be charged. Make a note of it if you are.
  • Damage costs: Your contract should layout the procedure to be followed if the contractor does damage to your house (breaking a pipe or knocking down the wrong wall) and what will be done to protect your home.
  • Warranty of materials: Less expensive materials don’t last as long. Look at the warranty and see how long the materials will be guaranteed for. 

Do you use subcontractors: Some contractors will hire independent workers if they need additional help or if the work requires expertise beyond their own. This is fairly common, but you should ask your contractor if any subcontractors are employed and if they are insured and vettered. You want to make sure your contractor is also a good judge of character.

Do you have specializations in kitchen or bath design: A general contractor can do a bedroom or a living room, but contractors who specialize in kitchen and bath design likely have experience with plumbing and electrical work, which is key. These contractors also have an eye for design and what is thought of as lasting design. Some colors and styles fall out after just a few short years. A good kitchen or bath designer can help you design a space where the larger style will be timeless while still allowing for period styles. For example, you may want to do a big standing tub or use a bright, patterned tile on the walls. That may look great now, but in a few years, the styles might look dated. Your contractor may advise you to use gold or copper finishes on your fixtures, since those can be easily replaced if needed.

What will clean-up look like: Whether they’re leaving for the end of the day or for good, contractors and their crews should have a plan to leave your home with as small of a mess as possible. That isn’t always doable if you’re knocking down walls or ripping out cabinets, but tools and equipment should be put away everyday. Trash should be taken out when the crew leaves, and dirt and debris should be swept up. A good general contractor will have a plan in place for this.

Having a good contractor by your side will make your renovation go smoothly. While you should vet your contractor, you don’t need to feel defensive or suspicious of him or her. Ask as many questions as you like, and when you feel comfortable with one, go with your instincts.

Contractor best tips

Want to have a good working relationship with your general contractor? Follow these tips.

  • Be open about what you want and honest: Contractors can’t read your mind. If you want a specific material or finish, say so.
  • Communicate often: You should be in regular contact with your contractor as the work is being done. The more you communicate, the less likely that mistakes will be made. You don’t need to be looking over your contractor’s shoulder as the work is done, but you can ask questions or request clarification. A remodel is a big job, and it’s important that it be done right and well.
  • Establish a preferred form of communication: Phone, email text — whatever works best for you. Your contractor will look to the pattern you set to know how to best get in touch with you.
  • Track all changes in writing: Never make a change without putting it down in writing, preferably an email. You might tell your contractor that you want to change the cabinet finish, but he or she may forget and install the incorrect finish. Then it’s your word against your contractor’s, and you may be stuck paying for the materials and labor needed to correct it. If you have your changes in writing and a mistake is made, then you have a paper trail to prove that you requested the change on a certain date and your contractor messed up and is responsible.
  • Be a good customer: Pay on time and be friendly. Give decisive instructions and if you agree to do something or be at a meeting, be on time. Contractors work better for good clients, so be one and you will get good service.

Why you should book a gutter cleaning service after a remodel

Once your general contractor’s work is complete, you’ll want to protect your investment, and that means scheduling a gutter cleaning service. 

Clogged gutters can cause a number of problems. When water collects, it can spill over onto the house, damaging the wood frame and possibly causing rot. Without a regular gutter cleaning service, mosquitos, who love standing water, may lay their eggs near the water and ruin any evenings you’d like to spend on your porch. 

After spending so much money renovating your home, it would do you a disservice to then have to pay for expensive renovations to fix the problems clogged cutters can create. A gutter cleaning service will protect your investment.

Having a gutter cleaning service expert can also save you time and money. For one thing, an expert in gutter cleaning service will take care of all the hard work of climbing the latter, removing the debris and getting rid of it all, which means you can relax on your weekends and spend time with your family. A gutter cleaning service expert will also be able to spot problems while doing the work. If he or she notices water damage or areas where pests may be trying to enter, he or she will notify you so you can act quickly.

Tell us: What home renovation are you planning? How can a gutter cleaning service help you? Share with us in the comments!

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