Know Your Contractor

Whether you’re building a new home from the ground up or undertaking a renovation, you’ll make a lot of complex and critical decisions along the way. Your home building or renovation process all begins with choosing the company you will work with.  Cost is an important component but having the right team on your side can make all the difference. Here are 10 non-financial questions that can help you find the best fit for your project. 

To see DesignFirst’s answers to these questions, follow this link.

1. DO YOU HAVE A CONTRACTOR’S LICENSE AND THE OTHER LICENSES AS REQUIRED?  Among the many questions to ask a general contractor, this is the big one. Licensing is an important aspect of many industries, and construction is no exception.  A contractor without the proper license or insurance can put you at great risk financially. While the license requirements will vary depending on your location, the safest bet is to ask for a copy of their license and contact the issuing authority to ensure it is current and in good standing. 

2. ARE YOU INSURED AND BONDED? A contractor without insurance is a huge red flag.  If they are not insured you are assuming responsibility for their work and safety and could be liable to cover all the costs associated with any errors or accidents that occur on your site.  At a minimum your contractor should have liability insurance and workers’ compensation.  Contractor’s liability insurance covers damage done to the client’s property that has been inflicted by the contractor. Worker’s Compensation insurance provides employees of the contractor that are injured on the job for lost wages and medical services. It does not matter who is at fault, workers compensation will cover it.

Bonds are there to protect clients financially if the contractor fails to complete a job or obtain a permit for the job. Bonds also cover clients if there is damage inflicted on the client’s property by the construction company. Before hiring the contractor, verify if they are bonded by asking for their bond number and certification. If you still have your suspicions about your potential contractor then reach out to their bond insurer for additional information. There are different requirements for bonds depending on the state and municipal regulations, so it’s always best to do your research prior to hiring a contractor.


A large contractor will typically have several projects going on at the same time. They manage all this work by hiring subcontractors – often specialists – for each job.   A good, reputable contractor will almost always hire good subcontractors, but it is useful to know up front if there will be subcontractors, for which parts of your project and will they be licensed, insured, and bonded as well. 


It is good to know who will be managing your construction project. Often, they will be the key person you communicate with. Typically, a contractor appoints a project manager to oversee all the construction work for a project. This is vital to ensure that quality control and safety standards are maintained throughout the project. 

5. CAN YOU PROVIDE A LIST OF PAST CLIENT REFERRALS? Feel free to ask for referrals, reviews, or testimonials from your contractor. Any good contractor will be happy to let their work speak for itself, so listen to what their clients have to say.  Ask them about the process, as well as the final product. Discuss budgeting, timeliness, and professionalism. And most importantly, ask them, would you hire this general contractor again. 

You can also do some research on sites such as Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, the Better Business Bureau, and social media to see what their customers or past employees have to say about them. As with all reviews, there may be two sides to the story. If there’s a particularly bad review, ask your contractor about it to get the full picture. 

4. WILL YOU TAKE CARE OF PERMITS? Permits and inspection requirements vary by location. Common permits include building projects, plumbing and electrical and many specialty projects such as decks and fireplaces. You may need county, city, or even HOA approvals.  In addition, most remodeling projects that change the structure of a home will require some type of approval. Any professional contractor will know what kinds of permits are needed and how to get them, but a great one will also be willing to pull them for you.

5. WHAT SIMILAR PROJECTS HAVE YOU WORKED ON? The type of experience a contractor has can make or break a construction project. For example, getting a residential contractor for commercial construction project is not practical. In addition, you would not want a commercial contractor that only focuses on painting projects to oversee an electrical and plumbing project. Experience is key, it will provide you peace at mind for your construction projects. Ultimately, it is not only how much experience a contractor has, but what type of experience and if it is relevant to your project.  This may indicate how smooth your construction project will turn out.

6. WILL YOU TAKE STEPS TO PROTECT MY PROPERTY? All home renovation projects start with some amount of demolition. It’s a good thing to ask what measures your contractor will take to ensure the rest of the house stays intact. There are a few things you can do like relocating items and tarping over furniture to avoid damage however a lot of the responsibility lies on the contractor to avoid scratching wood floors, staining carpet, or damaging the surrounding walls. You may also need to ask them to lock up when leaving the property if you won’t be home that day. It’s nobody’s favorite contractor question to ask at an interview, but it’s good to know your key areas are covered.  

7. WILL YOU CLEAN UP? (BE SPECIFIC) The definition of clean isn’t going to be the same for everyone, especially for those who work in dirt and sawdust all day long. It’s up to you to decide if you’d like the site cleaned at the end of every day, or just at the end of the project. Keep in mind that the time they spend cleaning is time you’ll be paying for and could push your project timeline further out.

8. IS THERE A WARRANTY FOR THE SERVICES AND/OR MATERIALS INVOLVED? Out of all your home repair questions and answers, this is the one you’ll want to hang on to for a long time. You should ask your contractor for specific warranty details on any fixtures or electrical components before you agree to their installation. Construction work itself can be highly technical and is typically backed by the industry-standard one-year warranty. During this year you can call your contractor to take care of any work that wasn’t executed properly in the initial project. The warranties for both the materials involved and services rendered should be documented and kept until they expire.

9. HOW DO YOU RESOLVE DISAGREEMENTS?  This may not be the most comfortable question to ask a general contractor, but contractual disagreements are common in the industry. Common construction dispute resolution techniques include negotiations and compromise, mediation, and expert input. A good contractor should have a professional method for resolving disputes before they get out of hand.  If your contractor doesn’t have an answer to this question, you may want to find someone who does before the questions get much more difficult.


It is important to learn what makes your contractor unique and what they can bring to the table for construction project. Many contractors will say lowest prices or best quality craftmanship. However, everyone in the industry says this.  You are looking for a more open and honest assessment.  Unique contractors will build your trust and educate you on the construction project. Typically, experienced contractors will explain to you what your project needs and why, as well as how they will do the project. They should have an active list of subcontractors for each trade, good, solid supply chains for materials and be able to answer these questions thoroughly and professionally. 

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