By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Chris Meyers, Esq. | Last reviewed November 16, 2022
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You've finally got your dream home, but it needs a little work. Maybe you want to upgrade the bathrooms or change the layout of the house. If you're not planning on DIY-ing your way through these home projects, you will need to hire a contractor for your home improvement project. Finding a reliable and trustworthy contractor can be a tricky process. If you are considering home improvements or a renovation project, you will need to thoroughly interview each general contractor you're considering.
Here is an upfront list of questions homeowners should ask potential contractors. Many of these questions will help prompt answers that may signal red flags that you might consider in your search to find the right contractor. Asking the right questions can help prevent headaches and hiccups for you down the road.
How long have you been in business?
For peace of mind, look for a professional contractor with a well-established company and check it out with the Better Business Bureau. The bureau can tell you if there are unresolved consumer complaints on file. One caveat: No record of complaints against a potential contractor doesn't necessarily mean no previous consumer problems. It may be that problems exist, but have not yet been reported, or that the contractor is doing business under several different names.
Are you licensed and registered with the state?
While most states license electrical and plumbing contractors, only 36 states have some type of licensing and registration statutes affecting contractors, remodelers, and/or specialty contractors. The licensing can range from simple registration to a detailed qualification process. Also, the licensing requirements in one locality may be different from the requirements in the rest of the state. Check with your local building department or consumer protection agency to find out about licensing requirements in your area. If your state has licensing laws, ask to see the contractor's license. Make sure it's current.
How many home renovations like mine have you completed in the last year?
Ask for a list of their past renovations. This will help you determine how familiar the contractor is with your type of remodeling project. If the contractor has no experience with the type of work you are contracting for, this is a red flag.
Will my project require a permit?
Most states and localities require building permits for building projects, even for simple jobs like decks. A competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before starting work on your project. Be suspicious if the contractor asks you to get the permit(s). It could mean that the contractor is not licensed or registered, as required by your state or locality.
May I have a list of references?
The contractor should be able to give you the names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least three clients who have projects similar to yours. Ask each how long ago the project was completed and if you can see it. Is there a warranty on the work? Also, tell the contractor that you'd like to visit jobs in progress.
Will you be using subcontractors on this project?
If yes, ask to meet them, and make sure they have current insurance coverage and licenses, if required. Also, ask them if they were paid on time by this contractor. A "mechanic's lien" could be placed on your home if your contractor fails to pay the subcontractors and suppliers on your project. That means the subcontractors and suppliers could go to court to force you to sell your home to satisfy their unpaid bills from your project. Protect yourself by asking the contractor, and every subcontractor and supplier, for a lien release or lien waiver.
What types of insurance do you carry?
Contractors should have personal liability insurance, worker's compensation insurance, and property damage coverage. Ask for copies of insurance certificates, and make sure they're current. Avoid doing business with contractors who don't carry the appropriate insurance. Otherwise, you may be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project.
Set Expectations from the Beginning
Before hiring a general contractor for your construction project, you will also want to make sure you both have the same expectations. You will need to discuss your payment schedule or payment terms, the expected completion date, and the logistics of on site clean up at the end of the project. You will also want to establish a point of contact and create a work schedule and/or project timeline with your contractor.
Get Legal Real Estate Help
Getting construction done on your home can be stressful. Finding the right person to carry out this work can be daunting. If you hired a contractor and damage was done to your home during construction, you may want a lawyer to review your claim. You may be entitled to compensation.
Get in touch with an experienced construction law attorney today.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified real estate attorney to help you navigate issues relating to home ownership.