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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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