Questions to Always Ask Before Hiring Contractors

12 things to always discuss before hiring contractors, plumbers, electricians, tile installers, or carpenters for any home improvement job

Questions to Always Ask Before Hiring Contractors | 12 things to always discuss before hiring contractors, plumbers, electricians, tile installers, or carpenters for any home improvement job

Consider yourself warned that this post does not have one “pretty” picture in it. Because sometimes in order to get to the pretty, you have to experience quite a bit of the messy chaos that comes with owning a house.

We’ve learned a whole lot about that since moving into this old gem two years ago. It’s exciting; it’s scary; it downright drives us bonkers some days.

Questions to always ask before hiring contractors - A bathroom ripped down to the studs

But I’ve never really shared a really important part of this whole renovation journey: hiring contractors.

In two years, we’ve worked with contractors to get our electrical up to code, demo and renovate the girls’ bathroom, rip out and install a new powder room floor, replace some of our aging pipes, paint and limewash our exterior, update our swimming pool, and we don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

Robert and I have experienced a whole lot when it comes to hiring them: the good, the bad, and the ugly. In hindsight we’ve thought, “If only we knew then what we know now.” (And thankfully, after dealing with a few nightmares, we’ve ended up with a handful of go-to guys we love.)

So if you plan on hiring a plumber, an electrician, a painter, a carpenter, or a general contractor of any kind in the future for whatever home projects you have on your plate, I hope this helps prepare you for what we learned “the hard knock” way.

Questions to always ask before hiring contractors - a bathroom ripped down to the studs

Questions to Always Ask Before Hiring a Contractor

1. Do you have a license?

Not even kidding. Ask this. Because there really are some handy guys out there who operate their businesses without a license, which means you are taking quite a risk and could end up paying more to fix their mistakes. Assume nothing.

2. Can I see your certificate of insurance?

If a contractor isn’t insured, you have a huge liability on your hands. But seeing the actual certificate of insurance also can tell you what sort of work is covered in case something goes awry.

Questions to always ask before hiring contractors - a swimming pool liner replacement

3. Do you have any references? Or a portfolio?

Contractors thrive on word of mouth and reviews, so I like doing my homework to read up on Google/Yelp/HomeAdvisor reviews or talk to friends who have hired them personally. Bonus points if there are photos of their work. But full warning: Don’t hire a contractor simply on the premise that he’s a friend of a friend. Hire them because they’re known for great quality work, not because they’re a nice person. Ask me how I know. 😉

4. What’s the price estimate for the job?

If a contractor can’t give you a solid ballpark price before starting a job, run far, far away. Not counting unexpected surprises beyond their control, of course.

5. How much should be paid up front? What is the payment schedule?

This is one that got us recently that is always good to communicate beforehand. Make sure to discuss when and how much you’ll be paying throughout the course of the job.

Questions to always ask before hiring contractors - a ripped out bathroom floor

6. What is the timeline for completion?

If you don’t have a deadline for a job to be finished, it could drag out much longer than you anticipate. Try to get a deadline in writing as well and include a clause for termination of a contract after a certain amount of time so you don’t end up with a no-show contractor later in the project. Give yourself an “out” that allows you to pay for the percentage of work completed so that you’re not left hanging with a half-finished job for a long period. (Granted, understand that sometimes emergencies arise.)

7. What is the daily work schedule?

This one got us recently too because we assumed a contractor would be working weekdays from 9 to 5 when he really could only work weekends and evenings (bad combo with a baby). Ask in advance what days and times the contractor plans to be working so that you can arrange plans to keep your family out of the way.

8. What is the best way to stay in touch with you?

Have a phone number, email address, and any other means of communication set up so that you know exactly how to stay updated.

Questions to always ask before hiring contractors - limewashing a brick house

9. Will you be using materials to protect work spaces?

Make sure other parts of your house will be protected while they work so you’re not left with damages.

10. Will you be here at all times to oversee the job for your subcontractors?

General contractors often hire out more specific jobs to plumbers, electricians, tile installers, etc. So ask if they will be present to ensure everyone involved is protected and in communication.

11. Will you offer a guarantee on your work? 6 months, a year, a lifetime?

Some contractors won’t do this but it’s a good idea to ask so that if within a few weeks or months paint starts peeling or quality becomes an issue, you can have them fix it without an extra expense.

Questions to always ask before hiring contractors - limewashing a brick house

12. Can we get this in writing?

Ask for invoices and a letter of agreement to outline the work details, the timeline, and the cost so there are no uncertainties. It’ll help protect you for legal purposes too.

Got any others you would add? Or horror stories that taught you some hard lessons about working with contractors?

Those are the big ones for us. Even though we love doing a lot of projects ourselves, we know our limits for when it’s time to call an expert.

And we can honestly say now that we’ve been at this for a while, we’ve come to know some really great guys who are our go-to crew for whatever jobs come along.

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Questions to Always Ask Before Hiring Contractors | 12 things to always discuss before hiring contractors, plumbers, electricians, tile installers, or carpenters for any home improvement job

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32 Comments

  1. Oh, I could write a book:

    The guy who had a “license”, (I did check it out and he did), but I did not realize it did not include demolition. There are different types of licenses, and it varies by state. After he gutted our ONE bathroom, and still did not have the town permit required, we sent him down to the building inspector in town. The inspector called us to come in. As we did, the contractor was leaving. He went back to our house and started packing up to leave town quick. Not only did he not have the right license, he was using a different name, and on and on. We had to go back to our house and catch him before he left, fire him, and try to get this job done, now with new contractors, or on our own. We did a combo of both. It was a disaster. My husband had to take two weeks of vacation on the spot to get this done before the snow came.

    Then there is the bait and switch where they send a nice looking, polite, “politically correct” person to bid the job, but the crew they send do not speak English and that makes you wonder if they are legally allowed to be up on your roof, not to mention…how do you communicate with them?! That was interesting when one of the workers cut his foot up on our roof and needed to go to the hospital.

    Oh, no wonder, my husband wants to do all the projects ourselves…but it’s not always feasible.
    Your advice is all excellent! I would add the part about WHO will be doing the work: are they licensed, trained, speak English, etc. It doesn’t matter to me what ethnicity they are but they should be licensed, insured, and able to communicate with you.

    I notice in your picture of the three guys painting your chimney that there is no drop cloth!!! Little things like that are so important. Unfortunately, they don’t tend to care about your property. I always tried to supply drinks for them, and snacks, not just to be hospitable…but I thought it might help them see me as more than just a homeowner.

    Best wishes on your future projects!
    Christine
    New Hampshire

    1. Oh my gosh! That’s a nightmare! Yes, totally agree about checking who will be doing the work. With having little ones around, I’m always leery of the types of people in our house. I offer drinks and snacks to them too for that reason. So sorry you had such a bad experience! We’ve had some rough ones but definitely not like that! Wow!

  2. Workers come and go. Just because you had a good experience with said company doesn’t mean those same workers will still be there.

    1. Yep! Very true. We try to stick with hiring individuals rather than larger companies for that reason too.

  3. I personally have not hired a contractor (my projects thus far have been DIY), but I have heard that you should request lien waivers for large (above $500) material purchases as proof that your contractor paid in full for the materials and a vendor won’t be putting a lien on your house if the contractor did not fully pay for all materials.

  4. The big one I always ask now is what finishing work will be left when you’re done. This is because we were left with a huge yard mess after we put on an addition and with a need to patch our driveway after we put in a retaining wall. There will always be something you have to do after. I also ask what needs to be ordered or picked out by me and what is the budget. For the addition, which was done by a very good contractor btw, he gave us very little notice to pick out each thing, so we weren’t able to special order much. And we ended up with a cash invoice to cover the difference between estimated fixture costs and what we spent. Cash we weren’t expecting to lay out. And that was with a reputable guy! And I would also advise not getting personal or chummy. It is MUCH harder to correct someone’s work if there are personal feelings involved. This is one I struggle with still. If you joke around or talk about family, it’s harder to say something isn’t right.

    1. I always get too chummy with the people coming into my home. I need so much work done, I’ll take all of these suggestions to heart and be super professional when hiring. Thanks so much!!!

    2. Yes! All of those are great points! I totally get where you’re coming from about getting personal. It’s hard to talk business while staying friendly.

  5. We recently had our house power-washed for the first time. We never hire anyone. I didn’t want my husband on the ladder anymore doing the peaks. I asked the owner would my plants be okay. Sure he said, water them before I come & after I leave. My gardenia bush is now dead, had it for about 20 years!?

    1. Winni–don’t give up on your gardenia bush!!! It may be that the contractor meant for you to wash off your plants, not just water them. They use a bleach formula, usually–and that will certainly kill any foliage–any leaves–that were not rinsed off. I recommend watering it once a week or so, and waiting for the new growth to come back. Don’t cut back any branches yet either!! Give the poor thing a little while to rest from the shock and to regrow its new leaves. Please let us know how it is!

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