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Protect Yourself by Asking the Right Questions Before Hiring a Contractor

24 July 2012

Remodeling your home may sound like a lot of effort but a well-constructed home will boost your property values.  While it’s important to evaluate the quality of supplies being used, it’s equally if not more important to carefully screen potential contractors to ensure that you’re working with a reputable professional who will follow through on the work agreed upon in a timely, safe & ethical manner.  When getting a construction bid, we encourage you to meet with professionals to understand their credentials and the scope of the work they will be performing.  Below are some questions that we urge you to ask prior to hiring a contractor.  These interview questions become even more valuable when you’re screening potential contractors after a major storm.saw

Have You Ever Done Business Under a Different Name? It’s important that you pay attention to how this question is answered, as it is very unlikely that a business that has operated under a different name is going to be willing to talk about it.  Operating the same type of business under a different name is often a sign that the business was shut done for shady practices such as requiring jobs be paid upfront and then disappearing before the work is completed.  When in doubt, check with the Better Business Bureau and the Department of Public Safety to ensure that you are protected.

What is Your License Number? In Minnesota and Wisconsin, every contractor must register with the state in order to do business.  Having a contractor’s license number allows you to verify whether or not any claims or judgments have been passed against them.  This also can show if the owner owned another home improvement business under a different name.window install

What Type of Warranty Do You Provide? Most projects won’t fail within the first year.  It’s important to work with an established company who has been in business for some time.  They have a reputation to uphold and will likely do anything they can to warranty a malfunction.  It’s important to get this warranty in writing so that you and the business each have evidence of the kind service that will be provided in the event that a warranty is needed.

How Can I Get in Touch With You? Don’t neglect to ask this question.  It’s important to get a physical business address along with business phone and cell phone of the contractor you’re working with.  If they’re only willing to give you a cell phone and a PO Box or their business is operated out a mobile trailer, you may want to consider looking elsewhere.  These signs are warning signals that you may not be able to reach the contractor in a few years if something goes wrong with the project….if they even finish it.siding tearoff

Can I Have a Copy of Your Insurance Policy? You should always ask for a copy of a contractor’s insurance policy; not only to make sure that they do carry insurance, but what kind and how much. There are a lot of contractors that have coverage but it is sometimes not enough to even cover your property. You want to make sure that their insurance not only covers your property but also a good amount of worker’s compensation coverage.  If the contractor is not properly insured, you could be liable for any accidents or injuries that happen to the crew.window install

What Associations Do You Belong to and are You a Member of the Better Business Bureau? Memberships to trade organizations show a dedication to both ethics and continuing education.  If your contractor does not belong to any trade associations, ask why.  These associations can remove member businesses that do not conduct themselves in an ethical manner.  A membership to the Better Business Bureau means that the member business agrees to resolve any matters brought to the BBB’s attention in a timely and fair manner.  If your contractor does not belong to the BBB, ask why and be sure to research their company for any unresolved complaints against them.

How Much Will This Project Cost? Be sure to get costs associated with your contract in writing.  Be 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, as it may not include all materials, labor, etc.  If you receive a significantly higher estimate than the rest, this could mean that the other contractors were missing a key barrier needed to complete the project and may be coming back to you for more money once they get started.siding installation

How Much of a Down Payment is Required? Almost all contractors require a down payment before a project commences.  Steer clear of any contractors that require you to pay the entire balance prior to starting on the project because if they fail to follow through on the work they promised, you will have to take them to court (if you can find them) or be out all of your money.  Keep in mind that an established company does not need your money upfront to complete a project because they should have a healthy income that permits them to start without an extensive advance.siding

Do You Have Any References I can Contact? Written & verbal references allow you to get a sense of what others experienced when they worked with the contractor.  We still recommend checking with the Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List to see how the contractor stacks up.

How Many Projects Like Mine Have You Done in the Last Year? In the same way that you wouldn’t call a podiatrist for a headache, it’s important to work with a contractor that specializes in the type of work you seek.  Just because a company specializes in sealcoating, doesn’t mean they are the best people to install your gutters.  Asking how many similar projects a contractor has done in the past year will assist you in determining if you are working with the correct business.  It also ensures that you are dealing with a contractor that is an expert in your type of project, not just one who dabbles in a little bit of everything.  Often, issues with installation are not immediately evident.  Reduce your chances of having these issues by working with a professional who is an expert on your type of project.

Bottom line, go with your gut.  If you don’t trust what you’re being told, investigate it.  You need to be an advocate for yourself and a reliable contractor is going to have no problem with the above questions being asked; in fact, they likely do the same thing when working with other service professionals.