9 Questions to Ask a General Contractor

9 Questions to Ask a General Contractor

A client of mine is in a legal battle with a contracting company. While many have had great experiences hiring a general contractor, there are a few deceitful contractors that make a vetting system necessary.

It’s scary really. A “professional” contractor comes to your home, pad of paper in hand, all the confidence in the world, and tells you, "Oh, yeah, we can do that. You’re in good hands." Only you discover later on that this “professional” used the wrong material for your project, your space is worse off than when you started, and now he or she won’t answer your calls.

How can you avoid this from happening to you?

There are certain questions you can ask to lessen your chances of being taken for a ride. Owning a contracting company, I feel potential clients are already skeptical of our level of commitment to their satisfaction. I’m here to say: There are wonderful contractors out there who love what they do and who genuinely want to help you achieve your goals for your space. Below you will find my tips for finding hard working and loyal general contractors.

1. Ask if the contractor is licensed. In the state of New York, general contractors are required to hold a license. Essentially, this is a business registration with the city and state. Ask for his or her license number and double-check that it’s valid. I’ve heard horror stories of contractors using the license number of other contractors, so make sure that the company name matches the number.

Important Note: Finding a licensed contractor does not indicate the level of craftsmanship you will receive. The test to become licensed has nothing to do with carpentry, drywalling, painting, or similar skills. Even so, it’s important to get someone who is licensed because steps were taken to get licensed. It indicates that the contractor is serious about the work and about having a legal company.

2. Once you learn the company is legitimate, ask to see before and after pictures of their work. Bonus points if you can contact the client who the work was done for. Ask for referrals and check to see how recently the work was performed. Don’t forget to ask if the client rehired or referred him or her for other work.  

3. Ask about the contractor’s last project, specifically if it had problems and what was done to resolve the issues. When a house is getting worked on, issues are bound to arise. It’s one of the reasons we love what we do—constant problem-solving keeps us on our toes. Befor hiring a general contractor, you want to see how the professional faces issues and solves them for the client. His or her answers will set him or her apart from the rest!

4. The contractor should be insured. This protects both you and the contractor. If you live in NYC, most buildings require Certificates of Insurance (COI). Make sure the contractor is well-versed in communicating with co-ops and condos, and is prepared to take care of all paperwork necessary to begin work.

5. Most of the time, larger projects will need to be permitted by the Department of Buildings. So your contractor needs to be willing to pull permits on your behalf. I’d be wary if the contractor encourages you to do the work under the radar. Permits exist for your safety; you want to make sure the improvements to your space are legal.

6. Inquire about anyone else who will be working on the project. Are they subcontractors? Are they employees of the contractor? Some trades require special licensing and certifications, like electricians and plumbers. Most of the time, your contractor will hire these professionals on your behalf to get the job done right. Unless you’re hiring a large company, it’s not uncommon for these trades to be subcontracted. It’s fair to ask the contractor if there will be any other professionals on your property. And if so, if they are covered by the contractor’s insurance and if they are skilled tradespeople.

7. Issues and problems can arise. This can delay the deadline. Ask the contractor how time is managed and what steps are taken if a deadline cannot be met.  

8. Always sign a contract. If you have a layer, send a contract to get reviewed, particularly if your project is large scale. In the contract, mention a change order. The right answer from a good contractor will be that change orders will be issued when necessary. This maintains that both parties are on the same page and hold the same high standards.

9. The cheapest bid is not always the best bid. Do your due diligence and interview two to three contractors. You want to feel good around this professional and comfortable sharing your ideas. Once you get a quote for the job, compare it to other companies you interviewed. If one is severely lower than the others, take this as a warning sign. Good contractors should be in high demand and therefore confident that their pricing reflects their customer service and craftsmanship.

Once you find a great contractor to work with and continue to be pleased with the work, refer the company to your friends and family. It’s like with any medical doctor or dentist, referrals are the greatest compliments of a professional’s work, so keep passionate and talented contractors working in your community. Conversely, report any professional that doesn’t check out.

My final tip: Always check in on the project when it’s underway. Just because you don’t know how to hang drywall or lay a tile, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure you like what you see. Your home is your haven and most likely one of your biggest investments. Take care with who you choose to work on your home.

That's not the only great advice Sarah has. See which questions this top NYC recommends asking before moving in with your partner

By Sarah Roussos-Karakaian on November 2, 2016 

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