1. Are they licensed? If so, get their license number.
While this doesn’t mean they will automatically do good work, it does mean that they at least had the knowledge to pass the state’s minimum requirements and are registered.
2. Is the one that will be doing the actual work licensed? In many trades, only a registered agent or owner needs to hold a license not necessarily the one doing the work. Licensed holders usually need to have annual continuing education to keep up with the current codes and have proven themselves qualified.
3. If the license holder will not be doing the work, how often will they be on the job site to check on the workmanship? Remember, it is usually not the owner that does a poor job but their employees.
4. Do they have insurance? Ask for a certificate of insurance. This is extremely important because without it you are placing yourself in a position to be liable for damages. If their employee gets hurt on your job and their company doesn’t have insurance they will most likely come after you for damages. If the worker does damage to your property without insurance you may have a hard time collecting for the repairs and losses if they are un or underinsured.
5. If you live within city limits, do they have a city privilege license? A business should not have a problem doing what’s required of them and supporting the communities they earn their living from.
6. Do they have a list of references that you can call? Of course you will only hear about the ones that would praise them but at least it shows them your level of expectancy.
7. Ask for a firm price or at least a not-to-exceed price. (if they won’t give one, walk away) There is no reason a contractor couldn’t give you a best case and worse case price and the reasons for the differences so that you know what to expect.
8.Do not hire someone by the hour at all, especially without knowing a maximum price. There is no advantage for a customer to pay by the hour for work to be done. Think about it; what incentive is there for the contractor to work faster? The faster and better they get at their craft, the less money they make! Also, if the worker is inexperienced or forgetful, they are usually slower which means you are paying for their training!
9. What kind of a warranty do they offer on parts and labor? Any respectable contractor should have no problem giving you a warranty for material and labor for a decent time period (Mine is lifetime). If you want a longer one, ask them to include it and adjust their price to cover their risk.
10. If time is of the essence for your project, make sure you have a written agreement indicating so and include penalties if they fail to meet the schedule.
11. Do NOT hire on price alone! If the lower price is substantially less than the other estimates there is a reason; find out why. It may be that they have very low overhead, some new tool that makes the job faster or they simply can get by on a lower income. It may also be because they don’t pay decent wages and have less skilled employees, they don’t have insurance to pay for or like many new businesses, they don’t know what really it takes to operate a business and will go under in a few years. It may also be that they missed something or miscalculated the labor. History tells us that it is usually the bargains that wind up costing us the most in the long run.
12. Ask about a permit. If the job is more than a repair it may be required to obtain a permit from the local inspection department. While this will add to the overall cost of the project it will also give you added benefit that someone familiar with proper installations is checking their workmanship. Should your contractor attempt to talk you out getting a permit, especially if you tell them you are willing to pay for it walk away from them. There is a reason they are unwilling.
The bottom line is to do your homework before you so easily entrust your home and safety to a contractor.