Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Contractor - Article Banner

Real estate investors understand the value of strong working relationships. You need to keep a close professional circle of real estate agents, brokers, property managers, lenders, insurance professionals, and attorneys. 

You also need a great team of vendors and contractors who are ready to help you when work needs to be done. 

Contractors will help you when you’re making renovations or rehabbing an investment property you recently bought. They may be called to take care of repairs, replacements, and structural rebuilds after a fire or a flood. You’ll need a good contractor who can call in plumbers, roofers, electricians, and anyone else you need while you’re making repairs or upgrades to your rental property. 

If you don’t already have a fantastic and reliable contractor in your rolodex, how do you know where to find one?  

An ideal starting place is with referrals. Talk to other investors or even homeowners who have recently had work done. Once you have a robust list of referrals, spend some time on a little research. You should be able to narrow your list of prospects down, and then you’ll want to interview them. 

Which means you’ll need to have a prepared list of questions ready.  

Maybe you’ve worked with a less than honest contractor in the past, and you’re worried about finding someone you can trust. Maybe you’ve noticed with a bit of concern that costs are rising, and you’re worried you won’t be able to afford a good contractor. 

It’s not always easy to find contractors you can trust, especially if you’ve never worked with them before. That’s why a lot of questions and a direct conversation are so important. 

The first question you should always start with is this: 

Are you licensed and insured? 

Once that’s been checked off the list, ask about experience and qualifications. Ask for samples of previous work they’ve completed. If you’re lucky, that work is similar to the projects for which you need them.  

We have some great starting questions for the potential contractors you may hire, and we’re sharing those with you in this blog. Ideally, these questions will lead to larger discussions that are likely to answer even more questions that you didn’t even know you had. 

Questions to Ask Around Business Experience and Values

Some of the first questions you ask should be about how the contractor works and how much experience they have in this field. You want to know how they approach a project. Understanding a contractor’s business values and operations will tell you if you’re on the same page in terms of scope of work, logistics, and planning. 

What you’re really looking for here is some indication that you’ll work well together. You don’t want an adversarial relationship with the contractor you choose. 

Here are some of the specific questions you’ll want to ask about experience, process, and professionalism:

  • How many years have you been in business?
  • Why did you become a contractor? What did you do before this?
  • What kind of training and education do you have?
  • How do you stay up to date on your area of specialization?
  • Do you work with subcontractors? How are they chosen? Will they be the same every day or are different people brought in throughout the project?
  • Do you offer warranties? How do you stand by your work?
  • What kind of insurance do you carry?
  • How do you dispose of garbage and waste?
  • What are your general working hours?
  • How do you handle it when work falls behind? 
  • What will our communication be like?

These questions are important because you’re hiring a contractor for their skill and expertise and also because you’re likely to see them – onsite at your property – for many days. You need to know if the same crew of people will show up every day or if there will be different workers coming and going. You want to know if you can expect them before daybreak or on weekends. 

Talk About Your Unique Property and What You Need From Them

Next, you want to introduce some questions about how they will handle the type of work that you will need at your property. The specific questions you want to ask will depend on your scope of work and what you are hoping they will do for you. Ask the questions such as: 

  • What kind of projects have you done that are similar to what I need? Can you talk about some specific examples and share what went right and what was a bit of a challenge?  
  • How do you provide a quote? Is it an estimate or a fixed price? Can I see an itemized breakdown of costs?  
  • What is the realistic timeline for this project? 
  • Can you apply for and obtain the appropriate permits? 
  • How do you handle surprises or setbacks?
  • What type of payment arrangement can I expect? Am I paying upfront in full or after the work is complete? 

These questions will allow you to get to know the contractors you’re interviewing against the backdrop of what you need from them. You’ll have a way to understand what they can do for you in terms of the work you need at your rental property. 

Always measure the scope of work against the cost of the project as well, and make sure you’re getting the value you expect. 

Understand the Value of a Reliable Contractor 

This can be a frustrating process. Finding a good contractor requires a lot of time from you, and coming up with the questions you want to ask and navigating the conversations you know you need can be exhausting. 

It’s worth it, though. You don’t want to pick a random contractor out of the phone book. You don’t want to hire the first person you talk to (unless they’re really the best). 

Contractors bring value, and when you’re comparing different contractors to each other, don’t just compare the prices they’re quoting. Compare the value you’re receiving. 

Here are some of the reasons that these questions matter so much:

  • You Need Quality Work

When your property needs something fixed or replaced, you want the problem taken care of correctly the first time. This is why a licensed, experienced contractor is the best and safest way to go. An excellent contractor will lead you to a team of professional plumbers, electricians, painters, roofers, and other repair people who have the experience and the expertise required to complete all the work you need correctly.  Don’t hire a cheap contractor who will likely cut corners or tell you what you want to hear.

  • You Need to Avoid Risk and Liability 

Protect yourself by asking contractors to see their license and proof of insurance. 

If an unlicensed contractor falls and gets injured or a worker without insurance ends up missing weeks of work because of a fall, you’re likely going to be sued. Avoid that liability by thoroughly vetting your contractors. 

  • Tenant Retention Is Always a Factor

The work performed by your contractor will impact your tenant retention rates. Failing to respond immediately to maintenance and repair needs will result in frustrated tenants who do not trust you. When you send over a contractor who is disrespectful, messy, or rude to your tenants, you’ll likely lose those residents when the lease ends. 

Tenants are customers. You owe it to your residents to send high quality, professional workers over to the property. Tenants don’t want to open the door to someone who has not been properly screened. Your residents want to know you’re sending a professional who is licensed, insured, and respectful.  

Asking for Contractor Referrals

Start asking questions even before you meet the contractor. 

You’re likely to gather referrals and recommendations. Ask the people who make those referrals what they liked about their contractor. Find out if there’s anything they didn’t like. This will better prepare you for your own conversations. 

Referrals are the best way to find a good contractor, and there are other methods available to you as well, especially if you have no idea where to start your search. 

  • Use online resources and check for great online reputations and positive customer reviews. If you don’t want to go straight to the internet, you can also talk with your personal network and ask for referrals. If you notice another property in the neighborhood having work done, for example, check in with the homeowner and ask about the contractors. 
  • Some of the owners we’ve talked to have found good contractors by asking around at their local hardware stores. Talk to real estate agents, property managers, and even brokers and other service providers. Your cleaning crew might know someone who does roofing, or your HVAC technician can probably put you in touch with a contractor they work with from time to time. 

Don’t hold back when you’re asking questions. You’re about to invest a lot of money in your contractor. You need to be sure you’re choosing the right professional. 

Work with ProfessionalWould you like a professional referral or some help managing the work you need done? We’re here for you. Please contact us at Stripe Management. We work with owners, investors, and both residential and commercial properties in Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Washington, D.C., and anywhere in the DC metro area.