The idea of home renovations is fun and exciting, but it can also be daunting. If you’ve never renovated your home, you might not even know which questions to ask.
It can seem like there’s so much to think about, so many details to consider, so much shopping, so many decisions, so much time...the list just keeps going.
These intricacies of remodeling are the reason most homeowners hire a contractor. But even that decision can feel overwhelming. How do you know which contractor to choose? Sure, you want to hire a company that is trustworthy, friendly, knowledgeable, reliable, and has a good reputation and a great team—but don’t they all claim to be or have those things? How do you know if a contractor is the right fit for you and your project?
Questions to Ask During Online Research
Starting with online research can help you narrow the field. Search for reputable contractors in your area by asking for recommendations on social media and neighborhood forums. Run a Google search for contractors near you that specialize in the type of remodeling project you’re considering.
During your online research, ask these questions:
- Does the contractor specialize in a particular type of project?
- Does the contractor have a professional website that displays a portfolio of their completed projects?
- Does the website provide clear information about the contractor’s remodeling process?
- Does the contractor have positive online reviews? If so, how have they responded to them?
- Does the contractor have negative online reviews? If so, how have they responded to them?
- Does the contractor make it easy for you to get in touch?
Questions to Ask During a Contractor Consultation
Once you’ve created a short list, it’s time to have a more in-depth conversation with your contractor(s) of choice. Below are some questions to help you get to know the people and companies you’re considering for your remodel.
1. Have you worked on projects similar to ours?
You always want to make sure the contractor you hire has a lot of experience working on projects similar to yours. A residential contractor has a different range of knowledge and experience than a commercial contractor, and vice versa. Likewise, residential contractors that specialize in new home construction might not have the same level of experience with existing structures as a remodeling contractor. Be sure you are hiring the best fit for your specific project.
2. What is your process like? Do you handle all phases of the project, from design to construction?
You want to work with someone who has a clear and defined process. They should be able to describe how they handle projects from start to finish, walking you through their process in simple, concise language. This is a sign that the company knows how to set expectations and communicate them clearly. If they do handle all phases of the project—design and renderings, helping you select fixtures and finishes, obtaining permits, ordering materials, and constructing the project—they are likely a Design-Build company, implementing a method that helps keep the entire renovation process smooth and cohesive.
3. Tell me more about your team. Who will I be working with? Do you hire subcontractors?
Home renovations are a team effort. You will most likely be working with a team of people throughout the process, from the company’s direct employees to subcontractors they hire for specialty trades. Inviting these people into your life and home makes the process intimate, so you want to make sure you can trust the people you will be working with at all stages of the process.
4. What is your work routine like?
Remodeling means having tradespeople in and out of your home, often for several weeks. You will want to know when their workday starts and ends so you know when to expect to have people in your home. You will also want to ask things such as when you’ll need to be present, what you should do with animals, whether the company works weekends, or what happens if you’re planning to be away during part or all of the renovation.
5. Are you licensed and insured?
These types of regulations vary from state to state and even county to county. This is a good question to ask to learn more about your state’s specific regulations. It is important to know if the contractor is licensed and insured because if they are not, this may leave you vulnerable. You’ll want to make sure the contractor has worker’s compensation insurance, any required state license, and liability insurance for the type of work they do.
6. How many projects do you have going on, and what is the timeline for our project?
This is an important question to ask to make sure the contractor is not too busy to take on your project. You will also want to know when your project is expected to be started and completed. This will only be a general timeline until your project is fully designed, but it should help you to plan and prepare for construction.
7. Do you anticipate any challenges with our project?
All projects come with their own challenges. It is best to know as many of these challenges as possible up front to avoid surprises. This question is also a good way to feel out your contractor. If they do see potential challenges, are they optimistic about working through them? Do they have a plan? This question will often tell you whether a contractor is knowledgeable about specific characteristics of homes built in different decades, or code requirements in your municipality.
8. How do I communicate with you?
Communication is the key to a positive, low-stress remodeling experience! Your main point of contact with the company should be clear at all times, and you should feel like your voice is being heard. A solid, defined process for you to communicate with the contractor’s team is an absolute must. Ask for specifics such as methods of communication and timeliness of responses.
9. How do you handle unforeseeable setbacks with projects?
An effective planning process minimizes surprises in a remodeling project, but it can’t always eliminate them. It’s common to encounter the occasional “hiccup” during construction, usually due to hidden elements within the existing structure that aren’t exposed until construction begins. Your contractor should have a defined plan for how to handle such unforeseen elements that might not be specified in your contracted scope of work..
10. How do you ensure project costs? Should we expect a lot of additional costs?
Budget is often top-of-mind with home renovations, and for good reason. Some homeowners have been burned by a previous remodeling experience in which they were slammed with change orders that doubled the cost of their project. You deserve to understand—before signing an agreement—which costs in your project are fixed, and what to anticipate for added expenses. Find a contractor that has a plan in place to minimize additional costs, but is also honest about the possibility that they might occur.
11. What is the payment schedule?
You need to know how the contractor is going to bill you for the project. Are there deposits? Will you pay for everything up front? Will you make smaller payments along the way? How long after completion is the final payment due? What happens if you are late or need more time making a payment? What payment methods are available to you?
12. How do you make sure the workspace remains clean and safe?
Your home is a very sacred place. With home renovations, you are not only allowing several people into your home, but also living with a construction zone for multiple weeks. You want a contractor that leaves a minimal imprint on your home when they are not there. A quality contractor will make sure that the end-of-day and end-of project clean-up is always taken care of. Also ask how they keep the construction site safe when they are there, but also when they leave. Will it be sectioned off while they are working? Where will tools, supplies, and materials be stored when no one is there? Regardless of the job’s scope, be sure to ask a contractor at the beginning who is responsible for the mess and how your space will be protected.
13. What sets you apart from your competitors?
On the surface it may look like all contractors do the same thing: tear things down, build things up. However, how they do things is likely very different, as is the culture and personality of each company. Find a contractor whose process and personality mesh with yours, someone you feel comfortable talking to and can trust has your back.
Once you’ve done some research on reputable remodeling contractors, and asked educated questions like those in this post, you should have a good sense of how well your needs and expectations line up with the contractors on your list.
The final choice will probably come down to your intuition and personal preference. Sometimes it takes time to find the right fit, but finding a contractor that is the right fit for your remodel is well worth the effort.
Written by Amanda Witherow
Amanda is a Marketing Assistant at McLennan Contracting. She and her husband, Alex, just added their first child, a baby boy, to their small family of one dog and three cats. Amanda is also a health and fitness coach and enjoys spending time in her gym. When she isn’t working or working out, she enjoys going on family walks/hikes, napping (when she can…), bingeing TV shows (when she can), watching her little one learn and grow, and soaking up all the snuggles and kisses from her little man.