What to Ask Before You Hire a Home Improvement Pro

Finding the right Pro can be as much a matter of safety as getting your money's worth. From following all code requirements of your city's building department to ensuring project satisfaction, it's important to find someone with the right experience for your needs. These 10 questions help make sure you have the information you need to hire the right home hero.

1. Are you licensed?

Most states and municipalities require home improvement contractors to have a valid license. Hiring a licensed professional protects you, your family, the contractor, and their workers, as it confirms they have up-to-date licenses and insurance, as required by local law.

2. Are you insured?

Certainly one of the deal-breaker questions, insurance is a critical aspect to consider when choosing a Pro. Pros should carry liability and workers' compensation insurance. Hiring an uninsured contractor may hold you liable for any accidents or damages that occur on your property during the project so be sure to ask this one!

3. What kind of work do you do most?

Many contractors have specific areas of expertise. For example, if your project involves finished spaces, it's beneficial to hire someone who specializes in remodels rather than new construction. 

4. What special training/experience do you have for this kind of work?

If your project demands specialized expertise, ask about the contractor's training and experience in that particular area. This question mainly matters for complex or unique projects.

5. Will you provide references (for past jobs similar to mine)?

References are particularly important for hiring contractors - it's hard to judge the quality of their work when you can't see most of it and don't really know what to look for (see item 10 for tips).

Then start asking around. Talk to family, friends and co-workers about work they had done on their homes. Were they pleased? Was the price affordable? Did the contractor stick to the schedule and the budget? Was he easy to reach and pleasant to work with? What would they have done differently? What did they do that worked well? Use their feedback to compile a list of DOs and DON'Ts.

Search online, as well. What you're looking for are contractors with generally positive reviews from neutral sources, like Yelp! - not just from the contractor's own website. Check how long they've been in business and whether there are any complaints with the Better Business Bureau.

6. What does your estimate include?

In addition to pricing structure, be sure to  clarify what the estimate includes and incidentals (chances are, you'll be responsible for them). 

BONUS TIP: Consider the trade-off- Remember that the lowest bid may not necessarily indicate the best quality work. Prioritize excellent-quality work that will stand the test of time, even if it requires a higher investment. This is your home, after all!

7. Do I need a permit? Who will obtain it?

A permit ensures the work will be checked by a city inspector -- an important safeguard for homeowners. It's standard for contractors (not homeowners) to pull permits. Make sure to have those permits in hand before work begins, and keep them in a safe place during and after the job.

8. Who will perform the work?

Don't assume the person you talk to will be the one doing all the work. If you would feel more comfortable about the "boss" being on site for your project, discuss this up front. 

9. What will you guarantee/warranty?

Understanding the contractor's warranty or guarantee policy provides a sense of relief in what can be a stressful time. A reputable Pro should stand behind their work. Additionally, contractors typically assume responsibility for any equipment they purchase on your behalf through their professional accounts.

10. May I see a work in progress?

Depending on the nature of your project, it might be helpful to visit a contractor's current job, for a behind-the-scenes look at his work.

For example, when hiring an electrician, observe the organization and neatness of cable runs near the service panel, clear labeling of circuit breakers, properly anchored cables, and switch boxes that are well-aligned and flush with the drywall surface.

BONUS TIP: Get It in Writing- Once you have chosen the contractor, draw up a contract. The contract should include all details of the work – all materials that are to be used (with specific brand names, product numbers and quantities, if relevant), the project timeline, the payment schedule, any applicable warranties, and cleanup – and must be signed by both parties.

Remember, like a trusted doctor or mechanic, a reliable home improvement professional becomes an invaluable member of your household maintenance team. While asking these questions, listen attentively to how the contractor responds. Look for someone who patiently explains their approach, provides insights into the project, and demonstrates a willingness to ensure your understanding.

Ideally, the contractor you hire will become a trusted resource for future projects, and a Pro you can't wait to recommend. 

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