1. How long have you been in business?
This question answers a lot about a construction company. As a general rule, any construction company that has been in business for 10 years or longer has been tried and tested by the system. Most customers are probably satisfied with their work ( I say most because there are always those people that are impossible to please). A construction company that has been in business for 10 years has obviously procured the proper insurance coverages and licenses, has been through a court appearance or two, and knows what the proper procedures are for doing whatever it is that they do. They have also weathered the latest economic downturn which in itself speaks volumes about the company.
2 . Ask for the names and phone numbers for local codes inspectors.
Ask them who the local codes people are and for their phone numbers. If they don’t know the answer to this question, this is an obvious red flag. You will be wasting your time trying to get information out of the inspector as most inspectors are not able to comment on workmanship, but if your prospective contractor does not have this information available in his phone, he/she probably has not been very active in his field or he is not playing by the rules.
3. Ask for 4 good references and 1 bad one then talk to ALL of them.
All contractors have “good references”. Only a fool would give you a list of disgruntled customers. The purpose of contacting all 5 customers is to determine the type of person that is giving the reference. If all the good references are related to the contractor in some way, this is a red flag. If they are all “normal” people, they should all have at least one thing negative to say, yet overall be satisfied with the work of the contractor. The 1 bad reference should be from an abrasive personality that probably nobody could please.
4. What is your procedure and policy for changes to the initial contract?
A good contractor will make it clear that ALL changes must be put in writing and agreed to by both parties. A contractor that “blows it off” as no big deal should be avoided at all costs. Almost all problems in the construction business occur over “he said… she said”. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t in writing… it ain’t %*&#”
5. Ask to see their work… then go see it and talk to the owner!
As painfully obvious as this is, you’d be amazed at how many people ask for addresses to go and see workmanship, then never go knock on the door and ask the customer about the work. The contractor you’re talking too might not have even done the job they said they sent you to see! I know this is out of most folks “comfort zone”, but so is court! Go knock on the door!