Things to Ask a Contractor Before Signing on the Dotted Line

Have a home improvement project that requires professional expertise? Enlist the help of a contractor. Choosing the right contractor for the job can be challenging, especially if you do not know who to call.

Have a home improvement project that requires professional expertise? Enlist the help of a contractor. Choosing the right contractor for the job can be challenging, especially if you do not know who to call. With referrals from family and friends, and information garnered from advertisements and online, ask a contractor not only about the costs of a project but also about his licensing, background, and areas of expertise. Asking multiple questions during the selection and planning process can help ensure quality work and the desired outcome.

The First Question: Licensing
The Nevada State Contractors Board (NSCB) advises homeowners to interview at least three contractors for a project. Ask the contractor for his license number. After you receive this information, confirm licensing and learn of any complaints and disciplinary action(s) through NSCB’s online database or by calling its Southern Nevada office at (702) 486-1100. Make sure the license is from Nevada, not from another state.

“Homeowners can hire whomever they want, but it is important to understand that they will lose protections if they go with a contractor not licensed in Nevada,” says Jennifer Turner, NSCB public information officer.

Hiring an unlicensed contractor or subcontractor places you — the homeowner — at risk. In Nevada, all licensed contractors are bonded and undergo background checks. The NSCB cannot mediate issues with unlicensed contractors on behalf of homeowners; it can only file a criminal complaint for working without a license. Homeowners who hire an unlicensed contractor are ineligible for the state’s Residential Recovery Fund.

Inquiring about a prospective contractor’s background and areas of expertise is also essential. Key questions to ask a contractor include the following:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What you do you consider to be your areas of specialty?
  • How many projects like mine have you done during the past year?

Ask for references and call them, and look at the contractor’s competed work. Also, check with the Southern Nevada Better Business Bureau’s online database for any complaints filed against the prospective contractor.

Nuts and Bolts of the Project
Of course, you must ask a contractor many questions about your proposed project.

Inquire about specifically what will be done at your home and the materials that will be used. It is important to know who will be working at your home, the hours in which the workers will work, and the expected start and end dates of the project.

Also, ask about preapprovals and your role in securing them. Are permits needed, and if so, who will get them? Will this project require preapproval from your homeowners’ association? If so, will the contractor complete the request, or should you?

According to Turner, “red flags” for possible scams can pop up when discussing money. Find out the answers to these questions:

  • What are the costs? Is it all inclusive?
  • How are payments made?
  • Will the contractor put all details in writing and sign it as a binding bid?
  • How long will this bid be valid?

Be cautious if the contractor only accepts cash or asks for full payment up front, or if it feels like he’s giving you high-pressure sales pitch. Likewise, beware of contractors who are reluctant to answer questions, provide references, or sign a binding contract.

If one bid is significantly lower, ask yourself why. Does the lower bid include all the project’s components?

After comparing answers to the above questions, you can move forward with your project confident that your contractor is the right person for the job.

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