17 questions to ask before hiring your next contractor

Updated September 11, 2023 | Published November 18, 2018

Renovating your home can be a huge financial investment. Knowing what to expect before the project gets started will help you better prepare for the process. Hiring the right contractor can make the difference between your project being a success or a nightmare. Here are 17 questions to ask your contractor before renovating your home, as well as tips and tricks to make sure you find a licenced professional.

A construction contractor


1. “What is your background and how much experience do you have with this kind of work?”

Everybody deserves a break, but you don’t want your home to be a training ground for novice contractors.

It’s a very basic question, so don’t be shy about asking how long your contractor has been in the industry and how long they’ve run their company. Also, ask about their experience with the specific renovations you’re planning for your home.

2. “Are you licensed?”

It’s important that your contractor is able to cover the costs associated with any accidents that occur while working on your project. If a potential contractor is uninsured, walk away. You’ll assume liability for their safety, and that’s a position you don’t want to be in. It’s also important to remember that being licensed is not the same as being insured.

General liability insurance protects your home from damage or negligence of the contractor, his employees, and any sub-contractors brought onto your property. Resist the temptation to take your contractor at their word; it’s unfortunate, but the reward is not worth the risk. Protect your liability and get peace of mind by requesting a copy of your contractor’s insurance certificate and be sure to check the expiration dates. You can also call the issuing authority and verify the insurance is valid.

3. “Do you carry workers’ compensation insurance?”

Workers’ compensation insurance protects you from liability in the event a contractor is injured while working on your property. Make sure to hire a fully insured general contractor.

4. “Will you be hiring sub-contractors on this project?”

Most contractors use trade contractors to some degree, so it’s important to understand how this will impact your project. Be sure to know exactly who’s working on your home and when, as well as whether the contractor will be there to supervise.

If you’re comfortable with the prospect of sub-contractors working on your project, be sure to ask for the names and contact information of everyone who’ll be present at your home. That way, you’ll always have at least one point of contact.

5. “How many building permits have you obtained in this area?”

Some general contractors may not be familiar with your area and the specific codes related to your property. For example, if you live in an area that is populated with a large number of heritage homes, you may face restrictions on the type of renovations you’re allowed to make.

While not a deal-breaker, it helps if your contractor is familiar with local building code requirements and permitting process.

6. “Are you comfortable providing a list of past clients?”

A credible general contractor should have no problem providing references.

Celebrity contractor Mike Holmes recommends you take the time to contact 20 clients for whom the contractor has done a similar job. Then, you’ll know the type of work they can do and the level of service you can expect.

7. “What is a realistic timeline for this project?”

Ask your contractor to be as specific as possible (within reason). While unexpected problems might arise as the project unfolds, an experienced contractor should be able to provide a timeline for the completion of the project.

Ask for a schedule that outlines not only the completion date, but also various milestones. This provides measurable goals to ensure that your project stays on track.

But remember, renovations often take longer than planned. As such, it doesn’t hurt to ask about your contractor’s future commitments. You don’t want them to disappear to another job before completing your project.

8. “How many projects are you currently working on?”

Answers to this question provide something of a double-edged sword. On one hand, you want them to be a little busy, otherwise you may question why you are the only one hiring them.

On the other hand, if your contractor has too many projects relative to their capacity, the quality of your renovations may be affected.

9. “Will you take care of the building permits?”

Although there is some cost and additional time required for obtaining building permits, in a perfect world, your contractor will take care of this. With an experienced professional handling the permitting process and setting up the inspections, your job should run smoother and in compliance with regulations.

That said, aim to be present for the home inspection, both to ensure it actually takes place and to review the feedback of the inspector. If any alterations to your home are required, you’ll need to know.

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10. “Who will purchase the materials?”

Most contractors receive building materials at wholesale prices and may be willing to pass some of those savings on to you.

But, it’s important to define the responsibilities associated with your project, such as the collection of materials and whether the costs are included in your quote.

11. “What happens if you find something unexpected?”

It’s quite common to find something you didn’t plan for in the course of a renovation project. Walls and floors can mask issues, and regardless of how good or accurate a contractor is, he or she won’t know the extent of any issues until work is underway.

The most important thing is to know who is responsible for what.

12. “Who is responsible for cleaning up?”

Will the site be cleaned at the end of every day? Or, is it your responsibility to tidy at the end of the project? And what do you mean by ‘clean’? Be sure to agree on the process to avoid conflict with your contractor.

And make sure there is an understanding of any dirty work that must go on during the job. For example, if mudding and sanding are required on drywall, there is no getting around the fact that there is going to be a significant amount of dust created. So, be sure to confirm with your contractor the measures taken to avoid creating more mess than necessary. For instance, will they seal off vents and cover doorways to prevent dust entering the home?

13. “What is the payment schedule?”

This varies from company to company, but you should never pay the entire amount up front.

According to Mike Holmes, a 10% deposit is standard, with payment installments based on completion milestones.

14. “Tell me about your after-service support.”

A construction project usually does not end with the crew leaving the site. Ask the contractor whether they have checklists that you’ll go over together before you sign off. And make sure some kind of process is in place for resolving any items you feel are not up to acceptable standards.

15. “Will you provide written lien waivers?”

A lien waiver is a legal document that verifies you have paid the general contractor in full for the services rendered.

Your contractor should be willing to provide you with written lien waivers for them and any sub-general contractors that worked on your project.

16. “How will we communicate throughout the project?”

Be sure to ask for updates as your renovation progresses. The medium of communication depends on both of you. Just be clear to indicate your preference up front.

17. “Do you provide detailed contracts?”

The answer here should be a resounding yes. A true professional always work with a proper, written contract. This protects both of you and is just common sense. A contract should detail a clear project plan and identify what you and your contractor have agreed to. A written contract should include the following:

  • A full description of the work, including the materials and products to be used.
  • Dates when the work will start and be completed.
  • A clear payment schedule that lays out when and how much you will be charged.
  • What lien holdbacks are required.
  • The contractor’s warranty detailing what is covered and the duration.
  • Confirmation that the contractor has business liability coverage for your project, and that required Workers’ Compensation coverage is in place.

Reduce the risk of unlicensed contractors

Aside from questionable workmanship, there are legitimate risks associated with hiring an unlicensed contractor, whether knowingly or by accident. Check out the infographic below for things you should look out for:

Infographic about licensed contractors

Employing a licensed contractor is not necessarily a guarantee of quality, but it should limit the risks involved for the homeowner to a reasonable level.

Expert tip

The underground economy in home renovations exposes homeowners to significant risk they often don’t understand and that can threaten their financial security. Furthermore, legitimate businesses suffer when they are forced to compete with those who cut corners, and don’t pay their fair share of taxes. – Tip from Kevin Lee, CEO of Canadian Home Builders’ Association.

Asking these questions should take no more than 5-10 minutes and the answers should influence your choice of contractor.

Want to learn more? Visit our Home Improvement resource centre for tips and inspiration for your next big home improvement project. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.


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