Angie's List | Interviewing your contractor

Feeling good about your hiring decision is an essential part of the home improvement process and that starts with hiring a reputable contractor.

It's not that hard to find great contractors, but it does require some advance work. That includes setting up appointments to interview prospective contractors. In addition to asking about the critical items like licensing and insurance, you also want to ask questions that inform you of the contractor's character.

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 contractors before picking the company he felt was right for the job.

When asked about the contractor he chose Gordon says, "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."

It's always important to meet the contractor and even the crew face-to-face before the work starts. A contractor should come to your house for an estimate.

Angie Hicks suggests, "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."

What many consumers may not realize is that it's important spending time interviewing your contractor and ask them questions just beyond the basic scope of the work. You really want to get to know them because you are going to be spending a lot of time with them over the course of the project and you want to know how you are going to be able to relate to them and talk to them about changes that might come up in the middle of the job.

Gordon says, "Some of the questions we were going through on zoning – has he ever built out here? Has he ever dealt with this county? Did he have a good relationship before then? How easy was it going to get this accomplished?"

"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," Angie recommends.

Remodeling is very popular category on Angie's List and it's also a big investment in time and money from a homeowner's perspective. Be sure you are investing in the time upfront to make sure you get the right contractor who is going to do the job you want.

Gordon agrees, "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."

If you know how to conduct the interview, you'll make the best choice. You want them to distinguish themselves from the competition.

Prepare a list of questions to ask every contractor you interview. Be prepared to ask more questions specific to your project.

Angie's List Tips: Interviewing a contractor

· 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.

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.


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