8 Questions to Ask a Prospective Contractor

So the moving company has left, all your stuff is set up perfectly and you’re looking to get some work done. Don’t hire a contractor without first asking these questions:

Are you covered?
This is a question with no wiggle room. Under so circumstances should you work with an individual or company that is not licensed and bonded. That means requesting–and verifying–proof that he or she is currently state licensed, paying employees legally and carrying workers’ compensation, property damage and liability insurance.

What clubs do you belong to?
If your prospective contractor has a list of clubs and associations they belong to, it’s always a good sign. Usually, members are encouraged to attend continuing education program courses, and they often receive professional designations such as Certified Graduate Builder (CGB).

What is the estimate?
Along with the other questions you want to ask during the process of hiring a contractor, you should request an itemized estimate from each. Be sure to look over the information thoroughly, paying particular attention to those that seem too high as well as too low. Estimates that fall in the shallow end of the pool can be a red flag for a hasty job that won’t leave you with a quality product; those on the high end might have artificially inflated prices.

Can I have a copy of the schedule?
You need to know exactly how long that kitchen renovation is going to take. Before you hire a contractor, you should ask them to provide you with a fixed start date and a completion date–including any cleanup duties. These dates should be included in the formal written agreement, along with a timetable of the work that’ll be done and a material list of everything that’ll be needed.

What is the payment schedule?
Most professional builders work on a pay-as-you-go basis, receiving partial payments throughout the process. The payments for new construction, also called draws, typically are scheduled as a certain percentage of the total cost when specific stages of construction are completed. Avoid any contractor who wants full payment before starting the job.

In addition to your references, can I have a list of previous customers?
It’s one thing to talk to a list of people the contractor has prepared for your call; it’s another thing to cold call prior customers from whom you’re more likely to get an honest assessment.

Can I see some of your projects?
Good builders are proud of their work and enjoy showing it to potential clients. Ask to see photographs of complete projects, and choose someone whose work looks similar to the job you’re planning.

How do you schedule call backs?
You want to know what to expect and how to best contact the contractor if, for any reason, they need to come back and fix or redo a job. Go with the person that has a concrete plan for these types of issues.

Related Articles:
How to Set Your Home Improvement Plan
Hiring a Contractor: When to Know When You Need One
How to Get Along With Contractors


Recession Remodeling: Tips on Renovating Your Home on a Budget

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post from Paige Thomas, a communications specialist at

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but in case you haven’t heard, we’re in a recession and consumer confidence is at an all-time low.

While all of these signals may indicate to you that you should stop spending (or even start stuffing your hard-earned cash under your mattress), the current economic state actually presents consumers (that’s you!) with more affordable options and deals galore.

I’m not just talking about sales at the mall or more coupons arriving in your mailbox. You’d be surprised at how some smart planning and some good negotiating can save you on your big remodeling dreams.

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of any remodeling budget:

Don’t Move Up – Stay Put and Renovate Up: Traditionally, your first house isn’t where you live forever.

As your career grows and your family grows, it’s common to “move up” to a house that is bigger and better than your previous one. While many people will argue that the current housing market is an ideal time for you to get a great price on a new home, you might also look at your current financial situation and think staying put is a smarter idea.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your current home grow up a little bit.

Instead of moving, consider refinancing and plowing the savings into an addition on your home, or tackling a bigger remodeling project (windows, new kitchen, new siding) that will make your current home seem brand new to you.

If you are going to start remodeling your home, be sure to check out federal tax credits for energy improvements, and check for local reimbursements and state incentives too. Who doesn’t want to get money back from the government for investing in their home?

Make Cosmetic Changes: If you want to make big changes to your home, but aren’t ready to commit to the big price tag that comes with it, consider some cosmetic changes that pack a big visual punch.

New paint is a great option for changing the look of any room. If you hate painting, but want some new color in your life, consider changing the color of your interior molding and trim or changing the color of your exterior door. By covering up your basic white front door with a bright red, you will really make it pop and add fresh curb appeal.

Other interior cosmetic changes to consider might be new pulls or knobs in your kitchen, a new sink or vanity in your bathroom, or new window dressings and pillows in your living room. If you’d like to tackle the outside of your home, consider hanging planters or window boxes, some new landscaping contained in a raised bed, or painting your porch with a new color or stain.

Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate: I hate haggling, but it’s becoming almost commonplace these days. While contractors need to be able to make a livable income, you may be able to negotiate the price on your project depending on how much work you are planning to have done, and depending on if you are willing to assist with some of the demolition or prep work yourself.

Be sure to receive multiple estimates so you can get a good comparison on price. Another way to lower the cost of a remodel is to consider buying materials yourself, and shop around to find the best deal on those materials.

Follow this advice and you’ll likely get a surprising recession-era deal.

Buy Seconds: I love a deal – if there is a store I like that is out of my price range, I will often go and check out the clearance section first. Many stores, like Ikea and my local Portland favorite, Rejuvenation, have “seconds” rooms that are filled with items that have been returned and are put out at a heavily discounted price.

If you are considering flooring materials, many stores will offer a discounted rate on materials that are being discontinued, or of which they have only small amounts left. Carpet stores often have remnant rolls for far below the original price. If you have your heart set on a specific kind of material, shopping this way is not for you, but you’ll see your budget dramatically reduced if you’re willing to be flexible and work with what you find.

About the Author:  Read more remodeling and design tips from Paige on the blog she manages for, a nationwide contractor matching service bringing together homeowners with area contractors for free estimates on home improvement projects.  She writes regularly for’s blog and Twitter page posting on a wide range of topics including the newest home improvement trends, the latest in remodeling news, and the growing green-building movement.