What questions should I ask a general contractor before hiring them?

Not all GCs are created equal! The true mark of a qualified contractor is their ability to plan. After they’ve expressed interest, and you’ve sent them the drawings, we’d recommend asking the following questions:

  1. When did you start your business? How did you get your start in the industry?

    Ideally, they’ve been doing this for some time and have a background in it. The reason for this question is: a good GC is like the captain of the ship. You don’t want someone who does this as a hobby and relies on their subconsultants to do the work without supervision.

  2. How many projects are you working on right now?

    You want someone who’s in control of the process. What’s important here is not the number, but the structure they’ve put in place to manage the number. Ideally they either talk about key team members, or they do a low volume of work.

  3. When would you be able to start?

    A very practical question. Hedging is okay, as long as the reason is good. Good reasons include, “The town’s permit review process is volatile,” “I’ll know once I have the finished drawings,” etc.

  4. Have you done a project like mine? How’d it’d go?

    What you really want to know is, “What went wrong?” Even if you don’t work with them, you can learn from this. Also, you understand how they handle adversity.

  5. How do you handle billing? Do you require a downpayment to get started?

    A 10% to 20% downpayment is common. Clarify if work will be invoiced monthly or based on milestones. (Never pay the full amount upfront, and always retain a portion of the payment until the project is completed to your satisfaction.)

  6. Will you handle the permitting & inspection process?

    They need to do this. If they don’t, thank them for their time and move on!

  7. Will there be a site supervisor? A project manager?

    You’re trying to understand, “Is someone in charge?” Even at the smallest scale there needs to be a dedicated site supervisor (“supe”) who directs trades, ensures quality, interfaces with you and the architect, etc. A project manager is required for commercial work and larger residential projects. They’re the office person who coordinates material orders, handles the paperwork side of things ,etc.

  8. What are your job site priorities?

  9. Good contractors will talk about safety, security, and cleanliness. 

  10. How do you communicate with clients?

    What you want is clarity. “We have weekly calls.” “We send an email at the end of each day.” The answer almost doesn’t matter as long as it’s specific.

  11. How long does your warranty on the work last?

    We typically see warranties on the work lasting between one and five years: one for smaller jobs and five for larger commercial work. Product warranties vary by manufacturer and are not at the discretion of the GC.

  12. Will you provide a lien waiver at the end of the job?

    When the job is finished, the gold standard is to have a document stating that you’ve paid in full and as such, the GC and their subs will not place a lien / hold on the property.

  13. Can you provide a list of references: ideally from a client, architect, and subcontractor?

    The client and architect will speak to the GC’s attention to detail and organization from different perspectives. The subcontractor can speak to the way they were treated and how quickly they were paid: both indicators of a well-run business.

  14. How can I be a good client?

    It’s rare for clients to ask this. There are obvious things here, but sometimes we can’t fully appreciate the challenges of other people’s jobs. If asked authentically, it’ll signal to them that you care about forming a relationship.

In addition to this, they need to have:
  • A Current License
  • General Liability Coverage
  • Workers Compensation Insurance

Lastly, we always recommend Googling them!

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