Knowing the right questions to ask a contractor you’re considering (or have already hired) for a construction project is key to avoiding headaches. Here are 15 such examples of what to ask a contractor that will help you manage expectations and ultimately have a successful project.
15 Questions to Ask a Contractor
#1. Who Will Be My Point of Contact?
Of all the questions to ask contractors, this is among the most important for determining what the day-to-day workflow of your project will look like. Having a specific point of contact will make the project much easier to handle in terms of getting answers when you need them.
If the general contractor answers in the negative, stating they will not have a specific contact for you, it’ll be good to have that understanding early on — even if you ultimately decide to work with them.
#2. What is Your Dispute Resolution Process?
With any large construction project, disputes of some kind are almost inevitable. Having systems in place to resolve them is key for keeping your project moving.
As such, one of the most important questions to ask a general contractor concerns their experience which such systems. Ask about their processes for handling things like RFIs as well as their openness to having legal mechanisms in place to solve disputes.
#3. What Project Management Software Do You Use?
In keeping with our ‘communication is key’ theme thus far, one of the important questions to ask a contractor is what project management software they use.
The largest general contractors in Canada, which are outlined in this article by Procore, all rely on dedicated project management applications to keep things on track. Knowing the software a contractor uses (and whether it is compatible with your own) is crucial.
#4. What Experience Do You Have with This Type of Project?
You know the ins and outs of your project. Posing this question to a contractor will help you determine whether they really know their stuff or are just using hollow words to get your business.
Ask for specific examples of projects they’ve worked on that are similar to yours. Do some background research into those projects and find out if there were any issues.
This leads nicely into the next question.
#5. Ask the Difficult Questions
While most of the questions to ask a contractor that make up this list are specific, this entry provides you some necessary leeway.
Ask your contractor the awkward questions early on; it’ll make everyone’s lives easier.
This can include everything from potential logistical challenges to legal measures you’d like to have in place.
#6. Are You Okay with Putting This in Writing?
This is one of the potentially uncomfortable questions to ask contractors that is worth focusing on in detail.
It goes without saying that you’ll have a contract of some kind with your general contractor. However, there are a lot of nuances with contracts. They can be broad — or specific with elements like the liquidated damages clause, which will protect you financially if your contractor fails to meet agreed upon conditions.
You can mitigate some of the risk inherent in construction projects by asking your contractor to put potentially contentious elements (like timelines) in writing as opposed to relying on a more open-ended contract.
#7. Do You Have Liability Insurance?
Up until this point, the questions to ask a general contractor all have circumstances for which even a negative answer on their part would not necessarily disqualify them.
This one is different, however.
You open yourself up to substantial risks (including lawsuits) should a worker get injured on the job site and your contractor does not have liability insurance.
Ask for proof of general contractors insurance — and walk away if they cannot provide it.
#8. Are You a Licensed Contractor?
Like insurance, a proper license is a regulatory must.
Each jurisdiction (city, state, etc) has its own licensing requirements for contractors to carry out specific work. Make sure that your contractor is certified to perform the work that your project entails.
#9. Will You Use Subcontractors?
One of the perks of hiring a competent general contractor is that they will handle the minutiae of finding personnel to carry out the specialized work.
It’s still a good idea to ask the question, however. Follow-up questions include, “Where will you find these contractors?” and, “Do you have any existing relationships that you can leverage for this project?”
#10. How Many Other Projects Do You Have Right Now?
This is a useful question in at least two ways. For one, it helps you determine whether a contractor is in-demand, which is a good thing. Second, if you have some background information on their capabilities, their answer can help you determine whether they are stretched thin or have the capacity to give your project the attention it deserves.
#11. What is Your Payment Schedule?
It’s standard practice for general contractors to request a deposit of some kind. But what happens after that? What are the specific milestones at which they would like to be paid?
These are good questions to ask a contractor as they will help you both plan for and determine the feasibility of their expectations.
#12. Can You Share a List of Past Clients?
Reputable general contractors will have no problem providing you a list of clients they’ve worked with.
In fact, most will display that list proudly on their website. This is one of the important questions to ask contractors who don’t have this information readily available. There may be a simple reason they don’t publicize their history — or it may be a sign that they’re trying to hide something.
#13. Who Will Handle Permits?
Even construction projects as simple as installing a fence on your own property may involve building permits and inspections. You don’t want to run into a situation where both you and your contractor assume the other party will handle securing any relevant permits.
If your contractor suggests skirting the rules in some way, you should walk. Avoiding securing permits (or securing them in improper ways) may make their job easier but you don’t want to be stuck facing the consequences down the road as the client.
#14. What Does a Typical Workday Look Like?
This is another one of those questions to ask your contractor that will give you an idea of how your days will look. Do they work around the clock? Are there any odd hours that would require special considerations on your part?
#15. Do You Conduct Background Checks On Your Workers?
Some projects are particularly sensitive; you’ll want to have confirmation that your contractor’s employees will not behave in ways that cause you embarrassment or even criminal harm.
When you pose this question, it’s also a good time to ask about the contractor’s other security considerations, such as whether they have job site security.
What to Ask a Contractor: The Bottom Line
These are the most pertinent questions to ask a contractor that you are either working with or plan to work with. Taking time to get these questions out of the way at the start of a project will make your life much easier later on by establishing clear expectations.
Smart clients recognize that these questions will reduce the amount of time they spend trying to solve emergencies later on, which will lead to a project that’s more successful in every way!