10 Questions to Ask Your Potential General Contractor

While Sebastian continues relaxing on vacation, I am continuing my quest for future employment and seeking out a few winter projects while managing our existing ones – ambitious or crazy? No one knows…

I am particularly excited about this one:


Currently, I am 100% referral which means that all of my clients are somehow in my social network. This has many benefits. I’ll take it as a compliment that I usually do not get grilled at interviews. Recently, however, I was meeting with a referral that did not know me personally. During our interview, he laughed and simply stated “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be asking here…” Upon hearing this, the sales person in me panicked because clients usually cannot pull the trigger on a project unless they’re 100% confident – especially when we’re talking about many thousands of dollars – not to mention that this project is dependent on the weather and needs to finish by fall. Did I mention we also need a permit for it that requires architectural drawings?

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(Notice the windows are starting to fall out because the structure is sinking…)

My solution was to answer the questions that I wasn’t being asked.

So, in case you find yourself at a loss for words, here are some questions that I think everyone should ask any potential GC:

1. Are you insured? Hands down, number one question. If the answer is no, the conversation is over. Do not hire that contractor. At a minimum: if they’re not insured, then they are not licensed. The list then goes on to a bunch of other potential realities that are all terrible. Close the door and wash your hands thoroughly if the plumbing works.

2. How big is your team? Are you sub-contracting most of the work or do you employ your own crews to do the work? There is no correct answer to this question. The purpose of this question is to gain insight on the work environment. Will you be seeing the same people every day or will it be various contractors in and out of the building? A crew that has worked together for a long time can be very efficient and flexible. Sub-contractors offer specialization in trades and another layer of insurance to protect you.


3. Who will be managing the day-to-day activities? The correct answer for this question is : “Sebastian will manage the day-to-day activities” (yes, that was a plug for Integro. You may also insert another name of a competent Superintendent or Foreman if you feel strongly about it.) Do not be shy about pressing for specifics. What you need is someone physically at your property every day managing the crews. They do not need to be there all day, they do need to be there at some point to put out any fires (figuratively speaking) and answer any immediate questions. Preferably, they should be there to open the property at the beginning of the day and lock it up at the end of the day.


Speaking of immediate questions…

4. How will you communicate with me about the project? Being the client of a GC is a part-time job. There are a lot of day-to-day questions, specifications, small changes, and preferences that need to be discussed. These small items can add up to a lot of time if your GC is not organized. Will you be having weekly site meetings? Does your GC allow verbal authorization for changes or is everything in writing? What is the decision making process on-site: does the Superintendent have authority or is everything only through the GC him/herself? How available does the GC need you to be: during work hours? After work? How early can calls be made?

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(Ally’s punchlist on a shim – notice the subs crossed off their own items during the week. I didn’t even ask. They’re awesome.)

5. What can I expect the property to look like at the end of every day? This question has two results: 1) It allows a good GC to shine above the rest and 2) It shows the GC that you are setting standards. Sloppy work sites encourage sloppy workmanship. Press for specifics.

Some GC’s have no problem leaving a work site like this at the end of the day:


This is how Integro leaves a work site at the end of the day (this was Demo Day 1 – we took down the entire ceiling):

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Who is responsible for construction cleaning? The crews? The individual subs? The Superintendent or Foreman? Our subs now know to clean up after themselves. They know it’s bonus points for the next job. It does not extend your schedule for the crews to take a half hour to clean up after themselves every day. In fact, I think it shortens your schedule overall. This question is especially important if you are living in the property during renovations regarding your own personal health and quality of life.

6. What can I expect your final product to look like? Will the property be professionally cleaned?

What about this:

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Who installs outlet covers? How about door handles? Light fixtures? Shower rods? Mirrors? These are minor things that can be remarkably time consuming and make you feel like the project isn’t really done when your GC takes his/her final payment.

This brings us to…

7. What is NOT included in your bid? The answers may surprise you. Appliance installation? Final cleaning? Priming, but not painting? Low voltage (cable and internet)? These are important items to note, especially when final numbers are submitted for comparison between bids.


8. Who are your suppliers? This is a good indication of a GC’s quality of work. Who is their local pro desk? Lumber yard? Trim shop? Kitchen and bath shop?

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9. Can I get a sample contract? You are not asking for a price comparison here. You are asking to see the wording of a typical contract. You want to see initial deposit requirements, payment procedures, change order procedures, liability coverage, even marketing/signage clauses. Most importantly, you want to read what the GC has committed to YOU for the project. What is your final product? How easily can you be put at a disadvantage if things go awry? For reference, my contract is 26 pages long. The contract is also usually a good indicator of the level of professionalism you can expect. Depending on the size of your project, you can be more or less stringent on this point.

10. Can I visit a current project? Preferably, you’d like to see a current project that your promised Superintendent/Foreman is managing.

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