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Angie's List: Interviewing a Contractor

Your house is your biggest asset so you should do as much as you can to avoid a hiring disaster. Why the questions you ask are important when hiring a contractor.
Gordon Welt enjoys the deck he had installed over the summer.

But he did a lot of work before his deck project ever began.

Welt sought bids from five contactors before picking the company he felt was right for the job.

“He was very, very knowledgeable during the estimate and some of the ideas he was coming up with he was able to do the math calculations there. He didn’t have to go back to a computer. I knew he was experienced and some of the terms he was using were very easily conveyed to me as a customer and being able to get our ideas on paper before he even left to do the estimate,”  Homeowner Gordon Welt said.

Meet all potential contractors face-to-face and prepare a list of questions to ask every contractor you interview specific to your project.

“When interviewing your contractor you want to use some of the same skills you might use when interviewing someone for a job at work. You want to ask open-ended questions because you’ll learn a lot more about how they’ll handle situations. One of my favorite questions is to ask them about a job that didn’t go right and how they fixed it,” Angie Hicks, from Angie’s List said.

It’s also important to ask questions that go beyond the basics of the project. Make sure you have a good rapport with the contractor. That can make communicating easier, especially when it comes to changes or problems in the middle of the job.

“The most important questions homeowners can ask when hiring a contractor is whether they trust their gut instinct. Follow your gut instinct when interviewing especially if you’re doing a kitchen remodel because you are going to have this company or contractors in your home for a long time. In fact, they kind of become a part of your family,” Hicks said.

“To me, being involved - it’s just like your car, everything else - it’s an investment. If you’re not involved you don’t have an excuse for the product you get at the end. So, take the initiative. Be involved and speak up during the whole process and that’s the only way you can get a good product at the end,” Gordon Welt said.

There’s a lot riding on any home improvement project, including time and money, so never hire someone you don’t feel comfortable with.

Always treat hiring like building a relationship rather than just carrying out a transaction.

It’ll put you more at ease with any decision you make regarding your home.

Angie’s List Advice:
  • Are you licensed? Check with your local licensing authority and, if applicable, ask for a copy of the license.
  • Are you insured? Contractors should carry two types of insurance: liability and worker’s compensation.
  • Are you bonded? Ask for proof of the bond and be sure you understand what it covers.
  • How can I get in touch with you? It’s important to get a physical business address along with the business and cell phone numbers of the contractor you’re working with. Make sure you have multiple ways to stay in contact with your contractor if necessary.
  • How many projects like mine have you done in the last year? Always ask a contractor for references and follow up with former clients. It’s important to work with a contractor that specializes in the type of work you seek.
  • How much will this project cost? Get costs associated with your contract in writing. Make sure that estimates are detailed so that when you compare them against each other, you know that you are comparing apples to apples. Be wary of any quote that is significantly lower than the rest.
  • Do you provide background checks on employees? If your contractor plans to hire subcontractors, ask them about the extra help. Know who is stepping through your door and who will be on-site at all times.

While it’s important to spend time talking about the job and the details, you also should invest some time in learning more about the contractor.
  • Ask open-ended questions: Don’t rely on yes/no questions. Ask open-ended questions in order to flush out some interesting stories.
  • Evaluate body language: Does the contractor look you in the eye during the conversation? Do they seem to be listening and engaged in the conversation?
  • Is the contractor trustworthy? Do you trust this contractor alone in your house? You’re not just hiring a professional - you’re inviting a person into your home to do the job. You have to feel comfortable with the person or crew.

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