2. Who from your company will be at my house each day? This could be a company owner for a few hours or the whole day, or a lead carpenter or superintendent full time, or a lead carpenter plus a project manager for several hours a week. Understanding staffing will help you get a handle on how job security will be handled and how much attention your project will get from staff at the jobsite and in upper management. It'll also help you understand the skill level of those involved.
4. Who will communicate with me once the project starts? In some companies the same person who makes the initial visit and estimates your project is also the person who performs the work. In others there may be separate salespeople, estimators, project managers, superintendents and a crew of carpenters who perform the work onsite. Understanding how information about your project is handed off from one employee to another or kept track of by a single employee or owner is important. Know how the company works so you can compare it to others and select the one whose system best aligns with your needs.
5. Is my project the kind you like to do? This is a great question that very few people ask. The answer will tell you if your project is larger or smaller than typical for the company and if it has processes in place to manage your project well. Management of kitchen and bath projects is different than management of other projects. Some companies specialize just in kitchens and baths, and some are set up for projects of all sizes. Knowing you will get full attention from the contractor for your project — whatever the size — is essential.
If you want any of these or other things that don’t leave the contractor in control of the materials and able to complete the project in its entirety, make sure you discuss it up front. Many contractors will take on projects only for which they do all the work from start to finish, but some are more flexible. Go down this path very carefully so you are clear about what the contractor is and is not finishing.
7. What do you subcontract? Things vary by state, but usually a licensed subcontractor does work that is limited to one or two trades, while general contractors can have their own staffs and subcontract out to other companies for some work. Knowing what work the contractor will do with his or her own forces and with subcontractors will give you a sense of how the contractor runs the business and the skills the employees will bring to your project. Check with your state licensing board for specifics about contractor licenses in your area.
9. What can I expect at the end of the project in the way of paperwork and lien releases? The final paperwork generally does include lien releases, final permit sign-offs and some information about warranties. It can also have as-built drawings showing mechanical locations, photos of the interior of the home before insulation is installed, manuals for installed equipment and a complete list of subcontractors on the project. Ask about this in advance so you know what you will receive and if you'll need to track something down or document something yourself.
10. Do you have any concerns about what we have planned, or think something might be a problem once we get started? This question will give you immediate feedback about the feasibility of what you want to do, and if there are any parts of the project that are obvious unknowns with price tags that cannot be easily estimated. Contractors might home in on questions about your existing house and structural system or have some useful feedback about design. Either way, it will yield useful information about what to expect as you move forward.
Tips from contractors themselves
What to look for in a contractor's contract
Find contractors in your area