What Should I Ask My Contractor?
You have just come back to your home from a visit with an old friend. He was gushing about his new kitchen, state of the art, blah blah blah. He is so over the top with everything (he was picked first for the varsity football team in his freshman year, a fact he never lets you forget since you got a “respectable” second pick), it’s a wonder you are still friends. He’s still so competitive. But his kitchen was pretty nice. Really nice. He lives far away, so his contractor won’t be able to help you with your remodel. And for the record, he just happened to start his project before you – you’ve been planning this for years. He will undoubtedly think you are doing the ‘respectable’ thing by coming in second again. You’re quite sure you will not hear the end of this one, either.
However, you are now seriously considering redoing the kitchen. You have your ideas in place and your budget. The timing couldn’t be better. You now need to find the contractor that will work with you. You don’t want to get this wrong, but you are unaccustomed to doing remodeling projects. As a teenager, you helped your dad with the projects he did around the house and you did pick up a thing or two. But a big renovation? It’s a bit daunting. What do you even ask your contractor? I have broken these down to administrative questions (4) and procedural (6).
For starters, ask about your contractor’s license information. Using a licensed contractor helps you avoid financial risk and other problems. They understand local laws and codes, have the necessary skill and character and know the basics of running a contracting business. Further, unlicensed contractors generally do not qualify for workers compensation and liability insurance because they are not licensed. In the state of California, anyone performing home improvement work for $500 or more, including labor and materials, must be licensed by the California State License Board. California licensed contractors have passed trade, license law, and have undergone a criminal investigation. Ask to see the contractor’s pocket license and a current photo ID. Both need to match. Take it a step further and go to CSLB’s website to check the license information.
Next, ask about their experience. Knowing how long they have worked in the industry has its rewards (and tons of stories to be sure!). They should also have a nice list of customers who can provide a reference for you. While being in business does not always mean better service (see our other blog “Have you done THIS before”), a longer history generally indicates the contractor has been around the block once or twice.
Is your contractor insured (general liability and workman’s comp)? The contractor has a responsibility to keep his workers safe. If one of the workers gets injured on your project, on your property, and the contractor does not carry insurance, guess who will be held responsible for all those hefty medical bills? You guessed it. You will. Same for liability. Things happen. No one walks in, or should walk in, your house with the intent to break a water pipe and flood your house. If your contractor doesn’t carry general liability insurance, you could be responsible for repairing the damage you didn’t cause.
Does your contractor belong to any professional organizations? While not a necessity, joining professional associations shows a deep commitment the contractor has to his jobs and to the industry in general. It allows the contractor to stay in the know with new legislation, trends and new products, to name a few. Some of the most prestigious at the national level are the National Association of Home Builders, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Kitchen and Bath Association. In California, the Building Industry Association of Southern California and the California Builders Industry Association are top associations. Each of these organizations offer great resources and continuing professional education opportunities for the professional. This covers the administrative questions.
For the procedural questions, you should ask questions regarding how long the project will take, will he or his project manager be on-site at all times to supervise the work, how often will updates be given, and using what media (calls, emails, text, project management software, etc.), what is the daily work schedule, how are change orders handled and who handles permits? A good contactor will answer each of these questions for you as you ask them. A great contractor answers these questions and more before you ask them during the pre-construction meeting. It is a very important part of construction management. While the construction contract covers the legal aspects of the who, what, where and when, the pre-construction meeting deals with the HOW.
Now that you have a good understanding of what to ask your contractor, sit back and let your dream come to life. And your high school buddy? Well, that’s the interesting part. After all, just because you didn’t start your project first, you still have a very respectable finish – the best.