Important Questions That Homeowners Overlook When Interviewing Contractor


Finding the perfect contractor isn’t as difficult as you may think. It takes time, patience and know how, but it is not an impossible task. With some guidance and instruction choosing a contractor can be easier than deciding on bathroom tile.


Before the contract is signed, make sure you have asked and considered the answers to the following questions – your home renovation project should be enjoyed, not dreaded:


Do you have a NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) license? Almost any type of work provided in your home by a contractor, which exceeds $200, requires a DCA licensed contractor. The DCA monitors and vets qualified contractors and maintains a trust fund that protects consumers against shoddy or substandard work - but only if a consumer uses a DCA licensed contractor. Use a non-licensed contractor – you are not protected.


Do you have General Liability and Workers Compensation insurance? Contractors should have both general liability and worker’s compensation insurance. When interviewing a contractor, make sure they will provide you with Certificates of Insurance specifically for your project, with you as the Certificate Holder and in the same name of the business on the contract. This will insure that their workers are covered in the event they are hurt on the job, as well as provide a means for you to be compensated should damage be done to your home during the project.


How long have you been in business? Most established contracting firms understand the ins and outs of the construction industry. They have created systems and processes to keep their work flowing, their staff employed and consumers happy – if not, there is sure to be a bad review, complaints on record with the Better Business Bureau or the DCA, or a limit to the amount of references they will provide to you. A qualified contracting firm should be able to provide you with fifteen to twenty references should you wish to contact a homeowner or pass by a job site.


Do you belong to any professional organizations? A contractor who is a member of a local or national association is not a mandatory qualification, but it does show the commitment a potential contractor has to his craft and the industry. Professional associations offer added training, networking, and provides their members information about best industry practices.


When would you be able to start my project and what is the projected time line for completion? It’s important for homeowners to have a clear picture of when contractors will start and complete their project. Contractors should be forthright and provide details about any other projects they are currently working on that could affect your schedule and provide homeowners an understanding of which changes to their project would affect the projected completion date, i.e., change in materials or additional work added to the scope of the project.


Will you provide a written contract? Not only is it required by the DCA to have a written contract with a termination clause, it is in your best interest to have the contractor provide everything that is included in your project – have it signed and dated and keep if for your records. You may need it in the future. Make sure you understand the terms, schedules and warranties. If you don’t, ask for more information. The contract can be a source of protection should the project not go as planned.


What is the payment schedule? The Better Business Bureau advises to never pay for the full price of contracting work upfront - a reputable contractor shouldn’t even ask you to. But it’s important to discuss payment terms before construction begins and be aware of exactly how much is due and when - based on completed stages of the project.


Who is responsible to apply for permits with the Department of Buildings? Not every job requires permits or inspections, but most remodeling projects that alter the structure of the home do. Your contractor should not only know what kind of permits you need and how to get them, but also be willing to pull them for you. Your project may even require an architect to design and apply for permitting, depending on the scope of work.


Will I have a dedicated team for my project and who will oversee the workmanship? Contracting companies often work on multiple projects at a time, so it’s important to verify that you can count on consistency when it comes to your project. Be sure to ask these questions; will the same team be working on my home each day? Who is the project manager, and what specifically will he oversee each day? Will I receive daily updates on the progress?


How do I contact you with any questions or concerns? Find out who is your point of contact and how to reach them when necessary. Also make sure the contractor is reachable by phone, text or email, and agree on a general time-frame that you should expect to hear back from him, should the need arise.


Will there be subcontractors on my project? If so, what have you done to properly qualify them, and can they provide general liability and worker’s compensation certificates of insurance for my project?


What if there is a change to the project, how is it dealt with? Thanks to technological advancements, contractors can provide more accurate pricing than ever before. It is critical that your contractor provides a complete overview of the services and materials he will be using for your project and respects your budget. Should there be a change to the scope of work, make sure the contractor provides a change order, or an email exchange with confirmation of the scope of the work that is being changed and an itemized cost.


Will the job site be cleaned up at the end of each day? A quality contractor will make sure that end-of-day clean-up is always taken care of by his crew, whether the project lasts one day or spans several weeks. Make sure he will remove trash and properly dispose of it, pick up stray items like nails from floors and outdoor areas, and wipe down surfaces that have gotten dusty during construction at the end of every work day.


How and where will tools and materials be stored? Part of keeping a clean, clutter-free work-space once the team has left for the day includes putting tools away. If they have large pieces of equipment being stored in your home, where will they be kept?


What is the warranty on the materials and services you will be providing? Most contractors offer a warranty or guarantee on their work, and it’s important to know ahead of time what it covers and how long it will remain in effect. Additionally, the materials used in your project may have a manufacturer’s warranty. Make sure the contractor is aware that you want all installation guides, warranty paperwork and the manufacturer’s contact information.


How do we resolve any disagreements? This is a crucial question. Unfortunately, mistakes and disagreements do sometimes occur despite the best intentions of contractors and homeowners. Asking a contractor how he handles disputes tells you that he has a process for taking care of situations when clients aren’t fully satisfied. If your contractor admits that there has been a dispute or two in his past, this isn’t necessarily a red flag so long as he treated the situation respectfully and fixed the issue.


This may seem like a lot, but a comfortable level of communication between you and your contractor is key. You should also be prepared for contractors to have their own list of questions to ask you. An open dialogue helps ensure that both parties are staying on top of the project and are setting clear and reasonable expectations on how the project will go.


At the end of the day, it’s in the contractor’s best interest to be honest and trustworthy because he wants you to recommend him to other potential clients. It is his best form or marketing because it is authentic.

Lana Seidman, Executive Director – HIC of Staten Island, Inc.

(718) 356-2323 www.hicofsi.org