Fourteen Recommended Questions for Initial General Contractor Interviews
Rhodes Architecture + Light
When initially interviewing a general contractor, you will want to gather as much information as you can before making your decision about who to work with. Eventually, the potential contractor should walk through the design and plans with you. In the initial interview, you have an opportunity to assess the contractor’s experience, work ethic and personal demeanor. We are sensitive to builders who try, in the early meetings, to re-design or who quickly suggest changes in materials and construction.
Let the General Contractor know that you have hired an Architect, will have professional engineering and construction documents (plans) and will use the Architect’s services to manage the construction. Show the builder your plans and drawings to date. Do not expect the G.C to price the work on the spot.
Take detailed Notes: Note the contractor, date, and then record information in response to each question below; make additional copies for additional interviews. Comparing answers later will help immensely to compare contractors.
Make sure the contractor has the appropriate business and professional licenses and is insured. Ask about specific licensing and insurance coverage. Once you have signed a contract, you should request a copy of the contractor’s “insurance binder” that lists the specific coverage for your project. Save this sheet of paper with the contract and do not lose them.
Get all the contact information you can. Write down the contractor’s business address, cell phone, telephone, fax, email address, and business license number. Before signing a contract, look up the business at the Better Business Bureau web site. Complaints lodged with the BBB should not necessarily exclude the contractor, but may lead you to ask some specific questions and/or write some additional language into a contract.
Ask the contractor to describe similar projects he/she has worked on. Get two or three recent references and call them. Ask to see photographs of recent projects completed by the contractor, but don’t trust photos the contractor brings as the only source of information.
Ask the contractor if he/she has worked with Architects before, who they were, and how that process went. Ask if he/she has worked in the city or jurisdiction in which you are building and is familiar with the permit, inspection, and construction approval process in that jurisdiction.
It is especially useful to ask for references for completed projects but also at least one for a current, on-going construction project. A client currently under construction will have an immediate view of the contractor’s work, diligence, care, clean up, personnel, billing, and documentation practices.
Make the contractor aware of any individual requirements and issues with your project. Ask if the contractor can work within whatever guidelines you set. Let the contractor know how involved you will be in monitoring the project during construction, choosing and reviewing materials, fixtures, and finishes.
Ask about project management. Who will be working on the job? Will there be a supervisor, superintendent or lead carpenter on site or will it be managed from a different location? Will he/she use a separate project manager as well as a superintendent on site? How will these people be compensated (flat fee, time and materials, percentage of construction cost)?
Inquire about timing. How much lead-time does the contractor need to schedule your project once the contract is signed? How long does the contractor anticipate the project taking? Is the contractor willing to agree to a penalty if he/she does not complete the project on time (this is called “liquidating damages”)?
Ask about the contractor’s bidding process. What will be included in the bid? What is specifically excluded? How long will a complete bid process take? What will the final bid form look like?
Ask about the contractor’s business. How many projects are completed in a year? Does the contractor have an office? How long has the contractor been in business? How many employees are there in his/her organization?
How are complaints or differences of opinion during construction typically resolved? Does the contractor have an established punch list (final review of the work and identification of defects or incomplete work) system? Does the contractor warranty his/her work? What is the warranty?
What form of contract does the contractor prefer? Architects prefer an AIA (American Institute of Architects) contract because these are carefully written and have long legal standing… and typically protect the residential homeowner. Is the contractor willing to sign an AIA (Architect-prepared) contract? Most Architects also prefer a fixed fee contract. Ask if the contractor is willing to quote a fixed fee for all work and then guarantee it. A time and materials contract or a cost-plus contract will leave you open to additional costs that may significantly exceed your budget.
Ask about payment and fees. How much money does the contractor require up front? What is the payment schedule? What kind of fees does this contractor charge on each job? What is their standard overhead + profit, supervision fees, management fees, etc. does the contractor charge? Are all of these costs transparent and specifically outlined in his/her bid form?
Finally, Is the builder used to working with lenders? Can the contractor agree to the lender’s terms and the required draw schedule?
In the end, when your potential builders leave and you are talking about their work and qualifications with your spouse or your family, your intuitive feelings about this person or team are critical.
You will have to work with and trust your builder through wonderful days when you see the vision of your house being realized and on dark days when it feels as though all of your time and your money has led to a muddy construction site and there is no one there. Verify but trust your intuition about this person’s faithfulness, honesty, directness, articulateness, knowledge and experience, and most importantly, their ability to listen and to hear you.