30 Interview Questions: Selecting a Contractor

Bob Borson —  November 9, 2010 — 13 Comments

You are thinking about building a house … It’s a pretty involved and complicated process under the most ideal of circumstances but if you are going to give it a go by yourself, this could be the difference. There are some steps you can take that can help with the most important step – choosing your contractor. I wrote about how important it was to actually check the references your contractor provides you  but I thought it would be wise to pull out a little and look at the selection process from a wider perspective.

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I have prepared a list of questions that every homeowner should ask the contractor during the interview process. These questions can be used to help guide and shape the conversation and while this list is by no means all-inclusive, they are a decent road map to get you started. Be prepared to expect detours at times based on the answers you receive…

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1.  How long have you been in business building homes?

2.  What is your philosophy in building a home?

3.  How is your company organized?

4.  What type of staff is part of your company?

In house carpenters, paints, labor, etc.?

5.  Who are your sub-contractors- such as plumber, electrician, etc.?

6.  Does a superintendent come with the project?

How many hours per day?

7.  How busy is your firm?

8.  How many homes do you build a year?

9.  How often is an architect involved?

10.  How do you organize the scheduling and product verification on a project?

11.  What format is your contract?

12.  Are you receptive to a cost of materials/labor plus a fixed contractor fee contract?

Would back up invoices be available?

13.  How you handle changes orders? Approval process, fees, etc.

14.  What form of invoice do you use? Similar to A.I.A. G703 payment request?

15.  How often do you invoice? (Monthly, bi-monthly, etc.)

16.  Any issues with the architect providing Construction Administration services including payment request review?

17.  When bidding a project how many bids do you get per trade?

18.  Will you submit shop drawings for review?

19.  What type of warranty is provided and length? What items are warrantied beyond this length?

20.  Do you provide an owner’s manual at the completion of the project? (Manufacturer’s warranties, product information, sub-contractor contact information, etc.)

21.  What sub-contractors are not under your contract and would be direct to the owner? (pool, landscape, A/V, etc)

Will you coordinate their scope and scheduling within your fee structure.

22.  Why are you interested in building this home? Why are you qualified to build this home?

23.  Have you built any homes similar to this one?

24.  How long do you expect a home like this it might take to build?

25.  How do you like working with an Architect?

What are the positives?

What are the negatives? (yeah right … as if!)

26.  Can you provide a reference list?

27.  What insurances does your firm carry?

28.  Have you filed bankruptcy in the last ten years?

29.  Any lawsuits in the five years?

30.  After all these questions are you still interested in building a home for us?

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These questions aren’t rocket science but you should hear something from the contractor during this conversation that will allow you to focus on the particulars of your project and the specific concerns you might develop. In addition to the answers, pay attention to the way the contractor answers your questions. Do you have a rapport? Do you like their personality? How prepared were they while answering these questions?

Being able to get along with your contractor is worth considering because there are always obstacles and hurdles along the way. At some point, you will be irritated at them and they will be irritated at you – that’s fairly normal. Being able to understand how the contractor communicates with you will carry you a long way during any rough patches, allowing you to work through any potential issues.

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  • http://www.lefrois.com/construction-property-management.aspx general contractor syracuse ny

    Quite nice and informational post thanks for share……………

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  • Stephanie

    Thanks for these Bob! Its helping me think through my current job (working for a small contractor) and how I can use what I’m learning now in my (hopefully!) future back in the field of architecture.

  • Tim Guedry

    Bob:

    Some additional questions to consider:

    1. Will you provide me lien releases for the previous pay application / payment?

    2. Will you give me a complete list of all subcontractors/vendors involved in the project?

    3. Will you agree to joint check subcontractors / vendors to insure that the payments eventually reach the person who can ultimately lien my property?

    4. Will you provide financial information for your company to prove it’s ability to fund the project?

    5. What will the terms of payment be? Will funds need to be advanced for work, or will work be funded 30 days after completion and billing? Will retainage be withheld per the State lien laws?

    6. Will the Certificate of Insurance include items such as naming the Owner and Architect as additional insured? What are the limits of the policy? Is there a waiver of subrogation clause? etc., etc. etc. Will the general contractor be collecting certificates for each of his subcontractors/vendors, and what are those requirements?

    Not all insurance policies are the same, and they have major impacts when they need to be exercised.

    7. Who are the subcontractors that will be used on the project, and what are their references and qualifications?

    8. If there is a dispute between the Contractor and Owner, what is the method of resolution (i.e. Architect mediation or worst case legal mediation/arbitration or traditional legal resolution through the courts)?

    9. Are there scheduled progress meetings with the Owner and/or Architect to discuss current issues / open items?

    10. What is your approach / attitude towards “Value Engineering” and/or upgrades?

    Needless to say, this list could go on and on, and further reinforces the point that a qualified contractor is priceless. Low bid is generally not the way to go, and what you know in the beginning may not necessarily equate to what will be known at the end of the project!

    • Anonymous

      Tim,
      These are great additions, you must be a contractor! (He is – Tim and I went to the same High School). My favorite additions from your list are #1 and #5.

  • http://craft1945.blogspot.com/ Tim Capaldi

    Again, coming from a General Contractor, this information is priceless. I can’t agree more with the message that Bob is putting out there. Engage the contractor when you are interviewing them. Communication is so vital in this business. You will definitely need someone to lean on (more than once) during the course of construction whether it’s a new build or a remodel. You need to feel comfortable.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your comments Tim C. – I appreciate you taking the time to voice your opinion. You couldn’t be more correct – achieving a level of comfort with the contractor is important.

  • http://twitter.com/Shahalti Shannon Haltiwanger

    Great post. If I ever build a new house I will refer back to this post. So do these questions change if you are renovating a home?

    • Anonymous

      They might not all be applicable but for the most part, this list tries to get answers with better results than asking yes or no questions. Just the process of asking them will lead the conversation down a different path than if you didn’t ask them.

      Good question

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    Can I ask them to answer in essay form? Using all the words you supplied yesterday? Anyway, why would I need all those questions – if I ever get the urge to start from scratch again, I’ll just call you! It would be fun to be irritated at you! And ask all those questions. Could you answer in video form maybe?

    • Anonymous

      Yes, the idea would be that if you did hire me (or any architect for that matter) they would handle this portion for you. You would only need to sit back and watch us do the work – because that’s why you hired an architect in the first place.

      I have no doubt Alexandra, that you and I would have a fun time designing a house together. As soon as you unload all your superfluous residences, give me a call and we’ll discuss it over coffee and donuts.