What questions to ask
As with any good interview, you should prepare questions ahead of time and assess candidates on similar criteria. We’ve found that asking the same questions to each contractor is the best way to compare.
Questions for your architect
- How comfortable are you with the planning process? How much support will you give me through the process?
- Do you charge me a fee or per hour?
- How long have you been designing homes?
- Have you designed any homes in the area? Walk me through a specific project in detail.
- What style of homes do you normally design? Walk me through your design process. How involved will I be?
- What do changes to design look like? How do we iterate on the design?
- Do you have a past client I can speak to?
- Are you in charge of engineers and other specialists or does that responsibility fall on me?
- How closely do you work with the builders?
- How long do you stay involved in the process?
- How do you keep budget in mind while designing?
Questions for your contractor
- How long have you been in business? How long have you been in the industry?
- Can you describe your ideal project?
- Can you walk me through your overall process? Take me through the major milestones from here until the project is finished.
- Do you have any kind of warranty and insurance if any kind of accidents were to happen on the site, for both property and people?
- How many other projects are you working on/plan to work on?
- How big is your team?
(You want to know how many people will be working on your project. The general contractor will likely hire subcontractors for the work, which is normal, but it is important to know how large their crew is and how many people will be staffed for your project.)
- What work do you sub out and what work do you perform in-house?
- What is your license number?
- Will you send me proof of insurance and bonding?
- Do you have any references I can talk to?
- What is a recent project you completed that feels the most similar to this one? Dive into one project in detail.
(Each construction project is different with its own challenges and intricacies. Make sure this isn’t the first time the contractor has worked on a project similar to yours.)
- Have you ever done any projects in the area? If so, how familiar are you with the permitting and planning processes? What issues do you anticipate with the building department for this project?
- What is the most common issue you’ve seen with projects like this?
- Will you walk me through what the timeline for this project would look like?
- When would you likely be able to start this project?
- What does your payment schedule look like?
- Do you generally work on projects cost-plus or fixed price?
- What is the best way to contact you? How can I contact you after hours if needed?
- Who is the foreman for this job? And who will be my primary contact for the project?
- Will you have a dedicated team working on this project, or do your teams work on multiple projects at once?
- In an ideal situation, when in the process do you join the project?
(Some contractors prefer to be involved early, while others prefer to come in right before construction starts. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but it does make sense to understand how their preference fits your project.)
- How involved will you be in the design process?
(Contractors can be a great resource for estimating and understanding building feasibility during the design process. See if yours will be involved and what that means.)
- Will you obtain all permits and handle working with the local building department?
(Most contractors will help you get all permits and approvals. Navigating the building department is a challenging process that contractors can help with.)
- How do you track and update on progress? I know some contractors use Gantt charts and other tools, do you use anything like that?
(You want to stay informed throughout the entire project. Good contractors have a process to track progress and keep you in the loop.)
Personality and working together
- How do you handle issues when they arise? Have you ever had any problems with other homeowners? If so, how did you resolve them? Can you tell a specific story?
(Issues are likely to arise, so you should plan for them before the project starts. Good contractors still have issues, but they handle them well. Learn how and when you and your contractor will communicate. Learn how they will assess problems, identify them early, and deal with them before they grow out of control. Ask for specific examples from past projects. If they say they’ve never had any problems on any of their past projects, that’s a red flag!)
- Have you ever been behind schedule on a project? If so, what steps did you take to remedy that?
- How do they handle changes (Changes to construction projects are referred to as change orders) to the project if necessary or requested?
(Let’s face it, your project will likely change a little as you go. Before you start, you should understand how your contractor handles and bills change orders. You don’t want to be surprised by project changes that the contractor is forced to make. You also want to understand how any changes you want to make will be implemented.)
What contractors look for in clients
The visit is a two-way interview. Like you, the contractor is evaluating whether your project is a good fit for their business. You definitely want to dive in to understand a lot about them, but also remember to show that you will be a great client to work with. Be presentable, reliable, and professional. A contractor is looking for:
- Someone that has their ducks in a row. A little homework and planning can go a long way here.
- Someone that can make decisions.
- Someone that will not micromanage.
- Someone with realistic expectations
- Someone that can pay their bills.
- Someone that is a good personality fit.
- Someone who is good at communicating and resolving conflict or disagreements
How to finish things up
- Bring up any reservations you have. Give them a chance to address your hesitations about working with them
- Set concrete next steps
- Send a follow-up email with notes and next steps
While some of this might seem like a lot, preparing well for the site walkthrough will make a difference. Hopefully, at this point, you are prepared to have a productive site visit and gain more information about your contractor before you hire.
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About Jack Cookson
Jack Cookson is in charge of growth at BuildZoom. A San Francisco native, Jack is an urbanist who loves people, mobility, and geography. He believes in data as information that is made elegant through visualization. In his spare time, you can find Jack surfing, skiing, rock climbing, or at a concert.
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