QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE HIRING A CONTRACTOR
Don’t be shy when it comes to asking questions. This is your home, after all, and you want to feel completely comfortable with whom you choose to spearhead your renovation. Be diligent in your search and work with someone who understands your needs, your budget and your trepidations. Here goes:
Are you licensed and insured?
If the answer is No – move on. A New York City co-op or condo won’t let any renovation work commence without a contractor who is property licensed and insured. (Consult your management company for the necessary insurance requirements.)
How long have you been working in the industry?
Be wary of folks very new to the business. You want comfort here, comfort knowing someone has experience with a project similar to yours.
How long do you foresee my renovation taking?
Someone who has experience with renovations should absolutely be able to give you a general sense of timing for your project. Yes, some unexpected issues may arise along the way, but you should be able to gauge what a realistic timeline will look like.
How many other projects will you be working on along with mine?
Simply put, be sure you aren’t hiring a contractor who is overextending him or herself. Ask how many projects they take on at a time, and if they are currently working on other projects, how large or small are they and how far along are they in those particular processes. Should you get yourself in a situation where your contractor is working on too many projects, you run the risk of: workers not showing up on time (or at all), timelines not being adhered to and details of your project being forgotten (due to management of too many jobs at one time).
How often do you finish a project in the anticipated time?
You’ll likely hear ‘most of the time’ in response to this question, but dig a little deeper and ask what happened on those projects that went way over a timeline. See how the contractor handled those situations with their clients and hone in on what type of problem solver your potential hire is. Ask their references as well if their project was finished in a timely manner.
Will you be at my apartment to oversee the progress and if not, how often will you be checking in?
If your candidate answers ‘no’ to this question – move on. A large part of your contractor’s job is to manage the project from start to finish. He or she simply cannot do this if they are unaware of what exactly is happening on a day-to-day basis. Sure, there are some days where they may not be there. Ask how they will be checking on the work remotely if they are not working on-site. If two to three days go by without an on-site check in, you may have problems. (Tip: Get the phone number of a contact who will be working at your apartment each day.)
How often will you provide me with updates?
You want to be sure that progress is being made on your project. You want to trust that the individual you hire is aware of how the job is progressing – and making you aware at the same time. If you are living in your apartment during the work, updates help to manage such things as: when the shower will be out of order, when the toilet will be taken out, when water and/or electricity will be cut off. This is your home and you should be kept in the loop with what is happening.
Will you provide me with a detailed contract, mapping out the anticipated timeframe as well as line items for materials and labor?
Anyone who gives you a general quote that isn’t backed up with some pricing specifics --- take heed. Of course, there is no ‘exact’ figure that can be given for a total project, but a good contractor can provide as much, detailed anticipated costs as possible. In my search, I had a few contractors present me with ‘all-in’ figures in their proposals. For example, “We’ll do the entire project including all desired materials and labor at $X.” I was a bit wary of these proposals as there were no specific materials listed in that figure. A Viking Stove costs a heck of a lot more than a GE, for example. It is always telling to see who is willing to work with you in mapping out a clear proposal vs. someone wanting you to sign on the dotted line and figure it all out later. Try and read between the lines in how proposals are presented.
Can you give me 3-4 references I can contact?
If your contractor doesn’t have any references or isn’t willing to give you any phone numbers – run away. Checking references is a very good way to assess your candidate, but do remember that you will likely be given the information of only their best customers. Call them, regardless, and ask about their experience with your prospect. The National Association of The Remodeling Industry has some great ‘reference questions’ when it comes time to call. Also, check additional sites like the Better Business Bureau and Yelp.
Do you offer a guarantee on our work, and if so, what is it?
Many contractors will say, “If anything breaks after we’re done, you call me and we’ll come fix it.” Get it in writing. The written clause can state what exactly the contractor will cover and for how long. Make sure you get information on appliance warranties as well!
Do you have experience with NYC co-ops?
A very important question here in New York City. If your contractor has never aided in presenting an ‘alteration agreement’ for a co-op, it’s a sure sign of inexperience. Your alteration agreement is the package you put together for your co-op board’s approval, and an expedited green light often depends on how that paperwork is presented. If you run into a candidate who does not help with the execution of the ‘alteration agreement’, move on.
Have you ever been involved with any legal disputes with your work?
Simply put, you want to hear an honest response. Hear the story and evaluate for yourself.
What does your payment schedule look like?
If the answer to this is “I ask for all payment upfront”, say goodbye. Payment schedules are set up in various different ways. Whatever you are able to work out, you can trust that the final installment should never be given until the job is completed --- and until you have done your final inspection. Also, plan on paying by check or cash as I was unable to find any individual willing to take credit cards in my search. Also, be sure to ask who is responsible for purchasing what materials.
Is there anything you are working on right now that I can see? If not, is there a job you recently completed that I might be able to check out?
Many contractors won’t bring you into someone else’s home, but some will. I was able to see one of my candidate’s projects in progress. This was a great way for me to assess: how clean the apartment was kept, how many people were working on the job, how efficient the work was going, the quality of work being done and how the contractor treated his/her workmen (and how those colleagues responded in return).
Be thorough in your search, and don’t be afraid to ask about what you don’t know. Remember that this is your home, renovations cost a good deal of money, and you want to be sure this is done well. Trust your gut!
……and I’d love to hear what other questions you have found to be helpful during your interviews!