5 interview questions to ask a potential contractor

16 August 2019

Finding the right contractor is half the battle won when it comes to renovating a home. Here’s how you can ensure you make the right choice.

The idea of whipping up some fabulous meals in a newly renovated kitchen is delicious. Spending some time luxuriating in the tub of your recently re-done bathroom is enticing. Spending time, poring over design books and picturing possibilities is a lot of fun and once you settle on everything you need, you can’t wait to get the work started. But, here comes the important part – finding the right contractor to execute the work for you.

Making hasty decisions on the right contractor simply because you want to get the task done, can prove disastrous. The groundwork lies in not hesitating to ask potential contractors questions that will help you assess their trustworthiness, as well as their skills.

Step one: Get recommendations

 The first step is to narrow down on a set of contractors that you would like to interview. For starters, ask friends and family who live around you for some recommendations. Particularly those who may have got some work done in the last year or so. Another way to do this is to look up contractors in your area who come highly recommended.

Step two: Make contact

 Make a list of potential names and give them a call. Initial impressions can be made right from your first interaction. Is the contractor’s office, or the person himself courteous? Were you asked some preliminary questions on the work you require? Did you get an idea of the contractor’s availability or even inclination to discuss your project? All this can help narrow down your list.

Step three: Make a shortlist


Once you have the list, set out some time to speak to the potential contractors face-to-face. Don’t hesitate to ask them some basic questions and any clarifications that you may have. Here are some questions to start you off:


“May I have some references?”


 This is an important question to ask, particularly if you have narrowed down on your contractor based on online reviews. Ask for references that are less than a year old and do make it a point to call these folks and ask. This will give you a fair idea of the work done, its timeliness and the quality. Also ask the contractor on the expectations of his recently completed project, how he executed it, was he able to offer solutions or ideas that were budget-friendly or more appropriate for the requirement? All of this can give you an idea of how he approaches a project and the level of professionalism he brings to it.

It is also important to see how long the contractor has been based in the area. This helps evaluate the network of professionals he may have and his relationships with quality suppliers and professionals locally. A known name with a good reputation is an assurance of good work.

“Are your licenses valid?”


Almost every country has its own builder/ contractor licenses. This is essential particularly for accountability. Another important reason why licenses need to be in place is to ensure that house insurance covers the work. (For more information visit AMI NZ.)  If there is an electrical fault and the work wasn’t signed off by a registered master electrician, you may not be covered.

Building consent is required for most large renovations. This ensures a building inspector has reviewed the project. Be wary of contractors who are willing to work without a consent that’s been signed off.

“How do you work out timelines?”


This honestly works best with input from both sides. Elaborate on your project and what you expect. Tell the contractor what timelines you have in mind. Let them put forward what their schedule is like. Arrive at a mutually agreeable time frame. At this point assess how your contractor sets milestones for completion of the project. Look into whether they account for delays which are bound to arise.

“Who will do the work?”


You will need to know who will be doing the work at the site. Will it be the person you are having discussions with, or will there be someone else. Who will be your point of contact for any concerns or discussions that need to happen? How many people approximately will be at your home for the job and has there been a background check on them all?

“Are you willing to sign an agreement?”


Once you have agreed on all the details, ask your contractor if they are willing to have everything put in writing. This should include details on timelines, milestones, payment schedules and even penalty clauses if you can negotiate this as well. Ensure this is in place before you make a down-payment.

With this, you are now ready to begin the work. Sit back and enjoy your renovated home taking shape.

I am a professional home contaractor and writer for AMI NZ. Hope to chat soon. James


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