Angie's List: Questions to ask when hiring a contractor

CLEVELAND - Feeling good about your hiring decision is an essential part of the home improvement process and that starts with hiring a reputable contractor.

It's not that hard to find great contractors, but it does require some advance work. That includes setting up appointments to interview prospective contractors. In addition to asking about the critical items like licensing and insurance, you also want to ask questions that inform you of the contractor's character.

If you know how to conduct the interview, you'll make the best choice. You want them to distinguish themselves from the competition.

It's always important to meet the contractor and even the crew face-to-face before the work starts. A contractor should come to your house for an estimate.

Prepare a list of questions to ask every contractor you interview. Be prepared to ask more questions specific to your project.

Angie's List Tips: Interviewing a contractor

  • Are you licensed? Check with your local licensing authority and, if applicable, ask for a copy of the license.
  • Are you insured? Contractors should carry two types of insurance: liability and worker's compensation.
  • Are you bonded? Ask for proof of the bond and be sure you understand what it covers.
  • How can I get in touch with you? It's important to get a physical business address along with the business and cell phone numbers of the contractor you're working with. Make sure you have multiple ways to stay in contact with your contractor if necessary.
  • How many projects like mine have you done in the last year? Always ask a contractor for references and follow up with former clients. It's important to work with a contractor that specializes in the type of work you seek.
  • How much will this project cost? Get costs associated with your contract in writing. Make sure that estimates are detailed so that when you compare them against each other, you know that you are comparing apples to apples. Be wary of any quote that is significantly lower than the rest.
  • Do you provide background checks on employees? If your contractor plans to hire subcontractors, ask them about the extra help. Know who is stepping through your door and who will be on-site at all times.

While it's important to spend time talking about the job and the details, you also should invest some time in learning more about the contractor.

  • Ask open-ended questions: Don't rely on yes/no questions. Ask open-ended questions in order to flush out some interesting stories.
  • Evaluate body language: Does the contractor look you in the eye during the conversation? Do they seem to be listening and engaged in the conversation?
  • Is the contractor trustworthy? Do you trust this contractor alone in your house? You're not just hiring a professional — you're inviting a person into your home to do the job. You have to feel comfortable with the person or crew.
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