Flipping Houses

12 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a General Contractor

Expertise: Personal Development, Real Estate Investing Basics
21 Articles Written
contractor-real estate

Before taking on renovations, whether for your primary residence or an investment property you’re flipping, it's crucial to find the right contractor. We've all heard nightmare stories about contractors running off with money for materials, only to abandon the project without a trace. Or there's the story your friend told where their house underwent major renovations and two weeks later, their entire second story bathroom caved in and the contractor could not be reached.

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In case you haven’t already made this decision, I am telling you right now that you do not want to be this person! Trust me, I’ve been there, and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.

Related: The 5 Best Home Improvements to Add Resale Value

How to Find the Right Contractor

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The first thing you want to look into is a contractor’s reputation. Do you know anyone who has hired them? What did they say about their work? Their reliability? Their communication? Their value? Their punctuality? The more details you can get about their experience, the better.

Having a friend or family member who can vouch for a contractor they have personally used is amazing, but that’s not enough—you should also look to see what other people say about the contractor. Check their reviews. Look on their Facebook page, Yelp, Angie’s List, and Google Business to find out what their clients are saying about them. You’ll quickly be able to spot trends among reviews.

Once you have some confidence in their skills and competence based on your investigation, it’s time to get on the phone and start interviewing.

Before getting out there and conducting interviews, let me alleviate your anxiety—a good contractor understands how important your property and project are and knows that you will have lots of questions. If they won’t answer your questions, they are not your contractor. Run!

If they don’t show up for your appointment or interview, do not give them a second chance. If they are 30 minutes late, they had better have a good reason. If it’s acceptable to them to be late or not show up before you hire them, you can bet that this behavior will remain consistent or even get worse after you hire them.

When you meet a contractor, take note of their appearance and, if possible, the state of their vehicle. This can say a lot about a person’s organization and attention to detail. If there are fast food bags, empty water bottles, paperwork, and trash scattered everywhere, you can bet that this is how your house is going to look if you choose to work with them.

Related: How to Find (& Keep!) Good Contractors

When you first meet them, don’t hesitate to shoot the breeze a little bit.

It’s nice to know about a contractor’s family, their priorities, and what they like to do. Only spend a few minutes doing this though, as you want to be respectful of their time, and good contractors are typically very busy. Once you’ve broken the ice, get right into the questions.

1. How many people work for your company and how is your company structured?

This will tell you how large their organization is, which can be a good indication of how long they’ve been around and how established they are.

It can also tell you what type of support they have. Having administrative personnel who help manage project schedules and billing, assistant managers, and other support will likely make it easier for you to get in touch with the company when you need to, without having to worry about an individual being a single point of contact.

2. Who will be doing the work? Are you sub-contracting anything out, or will your team be able to cover the entire project? 

Ideally, the contractor can do the entire project with just their own team, whether for a residential property or a commercial real estate property. This allows the general contractor to have more control over the timeline and the budget.

If they have to sub-contract specific parts of the project out, they cannot control, for example, this plumber or that painter’s schedule. Regardless, you need to make sure that each person conducting work is trained, licensed, if applicable, and insured.

3. Are you insured?

This includes General Liability and Worker’s Compensation. There is only one right answer to this question. If they say yes, ask to see a copy of their policy.

4. Has your company ever been sued? Has anyone filed a lawsuit against you?

A “yes” answer is not an immediate reason to cut off the interview then and there, but you’ll want to dig a little deeper to find out what the suit was about, how it turned out, and how this contractor handled or responded to it.

5. Has your company ever had a serious accident that caused injuries or hospitalization?

Again, it is okay if the answer is yes—accidents happen. What’s important is how the contractor dealt with the situation and what they are continuing to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

6. Have you ever sued a client or filed a mechanics lien against a property?

Still not a show stopper, but you need to figure out the details. At the very least it will give you an indication of their transparency and character. If you feel that they aren’t being honest about this or previous lawsuits, check the public record.

7. Will you agree to sign lien releases before I pay you?

This answer needs to be "Yes." If your contractor does not want to sign a lien release to be paid, for any reason at all, their intentions are probably not what they should be.

8. Have you ever declared bankruptcy or operated a company under a different name?

If they say yes, you will need to do a little more research to ensure they are not going to go bankrupt again. You also need to check on the other company as there is probably a reason that company is not still in operation.

In doing this research and conducting interviews, it is not enough that they “pass the test.” You need to think hard about two things: Are they a good person? And can you work with them? Once you get the above out of the way and have a good idea of the contractor’s reputation and experience, you can start to figure out scheduling, timelines, communication, and organizational structure.

professional young asian female architect wearing casual shirt sitting in cozy office and making architectural sketches. Profession concept. beautiful young girl interior designer drawing blueprint.

9. Who can you go to when the project is way behind schedule?

This is where your contractor lets you know how you can hold them accountable

10. Who will be at my house and when?

You need to ensure that no one is allowed access to your house if they have not had their background checked by the company. Additionally, you want to ensure that there are only contractors working when you give them express permission and within the boundaries that you lay out.

11. What will our contract look like?

A lot of contractors don’t even use contracts (believe it or not!), so it’s important to have this conversation now. I always draft the contract I use and ensure that everyone signs before work begins or any money is exchanged. Not every contractor will be OK with this, but I highly encourage you to have a lawyer review any contract before you sign it. If it is written by your contractor, it is to protect them, but not necessarily you.

12. How and when do you like to be paid?

If you do not know this contractor, do not give them a large sum of money up front! Twenty-five or 50 percent is not reasonable, no matter what they say. A good contractor has enough in reserve to cover expenses to get started, but occasionally will need money for some materials. If this is the case, you can order the materials and have them delivered directly to you. This way, you have what you paid for. If your contractor has a problem with that, they can purchase the materials on their own and you can pay once the work is done, or you can find another contractor.

This is not an all-encompassing list and you can ask plenty more questions, but this will get the conversation started. Ensuring that they are qualified, have the support they need, and have a good reputation will help you sleep better at night. Through all of this, hopefully you’ll have determined that you can work and communicate with this person.

If you’re about to take on a four-month renovation and deal with this individual regularly, it is critical that you can work well together. At the end of the day (or project), you want this contractor to have respected your property, been open and honest, treated you fairly, and completed the job within budget, on time, and to your personal standards.

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What do you look for in a contractor or other home professional?

Let us know in the comments below!

Erin Helle is an Army veteran turned entrepreneur specializing in flipping houses, turnkey renovation products, and real estate investor coaching...
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    Rafael Cachutt
    Replied 7 months ago
    Excellent article and very clever questions. Would you share the contract you use to hire a CG?
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Hey Rafael, Thanks! I sent you a PM.
    Alpha Journal from Connecticut
    Replied 7 months ago
    @Erin, can you send me a copy as well. Thanks.
    Ryan Runchey from San Jose, CA
    Replied 4 months ago
    @Erin Helle (https://www.biggerpockets.com/users/ErinH45) please send me a copy, too. thanks!
    Michael Morton New to Real Estate from Fort Lauderdale, FL
    Replied 7 months ago
    Thank you for sharing. I will be saving this to use
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Great to hear! :)
    Bibek Singh from New York, NY
    Replied 7 months ago
    Thank you for sharing, this is really helpful.
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Good!
    Jason Frankena
    Replied 7 months ago
    As a home owner and project manager for a Construction General Contractor, I agree with your recommendations and appreciate your sharing them with the biggerpockets.com community.
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    That's great! Thanks for your comment!
    Mario Howell New to Real Estate from Atlanta, GA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Thanks for sharing. I'm very new to real estate and I would not have thought about these things happening. This definitely has my mind shifting as I am looking to purchase my first investment property and have been looking for contractors in my area, which has been a struggle.
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Good luck with it! Be patient and you will find the right one! :)
    Connelly Hayward Investor from Mandeville, Louisiana
    Replied 7 months ago
    Good questions are invaluable. I am an investor turned General Contractor because of a couple bad experiences with Contractors. As a Contractor, I am going to challenge question #2, the one about whether a Contractor uses Subcontractors or has their own crew(s). Is there more control over scheduling when a Contractor has his/her own employees? Yes. However, that doesn't mean there isn't control, and a significant amount of control over schedule when using Subcontractors. Our company doesn't have employees. We subcontract out every aspect of the job. When it comes to scheduling conflicts, we have priority. This is because we have a detailed schedule we provide up front, we quickly communicate schedule changes, we treat our subcontractors well – most tell us we are their favorite Contractor to work with. We are nearing completion on a spec house that is near a recently completed spec home done by another Builder. With using only Subcontractors, we will finish 4 weeks faster than he did. The better question might be, "Do you use Subcontractors?" If the answer is yes, then ask, "Tell me about your relationships with your Subcontractors and how do y'all work through scheduling conflicts?"
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Thanks! That is a great follow-on question!
    Sonia York
    Replied 7 months ago
    So good! Thank you for the information. Finding good contractors is tough. Would you mind sharing the contract that you use?
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Hey Sonia, I will send you a PM!
    Denix Construction
    Replied 7 months ago
    #2 I disagree with. We have tried it both ways, employees and subs and nearly 100% of the time you get better results with subs. You are hiring those that specialize in every specific trade when you are using subcontractors and if you treat them well scheduling should be no problem. Besides construction a difficult industry to find reliable employees, relying on a sub who lives and dies by what he produces is more reliable. #12 Youre right I do have money to fund your project. However, I am not a bank or a lender. I am not using my money to fund your property, if you need help with that we offer financing. I have not met another contractor in my area, so maybe its area dependent, that doesn't take at least 1/3rd down. And providing your own materials voids your warranty. Contractors need margins on materials to provide a warranty. These are just sensible business practices.
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Thanks for this... I appreciate the perspective from the other side of the discussion. :)
    Zenovia Chambers
    Replied 7 months ago
    This was a wonderful article Erin! Extremely helpful. Would you mind sharing the contract you use to hire a GC with me also? Thanks!!
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    I'll send you a PM
    Luwani N. from North Carolina
    Replied 7 months ago
    I think this was a great article. It not only had questions for the contractor, but for me as well. As I wrote some notes, I couldn't help but taking notes of the questions I need to ask myself in order to properly screen a gc. Thank you.
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Glad you liked it!
    Elena Shrode
    Replied 7 months ago
    Erin, great information! Would you mind sharing the contract you use with me also? Thank you so much!
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Hi Elena! I'll send you an email!
    Robert Horton Professional from Camden, South Carolina
    Replied 7 months ago
    Hi Erin, great article and very timely for me.....I'm in the process of finding a new contractor and have started the interview process. (can you also PM the contract you use to me as well?)…..couple of questions...…. Do you ask for an estimate or a firm quote? How do you feel about cost plus? What's the best way for a contractor to quote a renovation project that will protect him AND you? (everyone needs to be happy!) Thanks, Robert Horton
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    Good, I’m glad you can put it to use. I’m okay with an estimate when we’re considering an offer, but before I hire someone, I expect a firm quote that we then turn into a contract. This contract is written by me but I also allow the contractor to weigh in so they can protect themselves as well. I’m okay with cost plus if it’s a contractor I know and trust. If I know they are going to do a good job and I will get what I pay for, that’s fine with me but not the first few times I use someone. Does that help?
    David Green Rental Property Investor from Fullerton, CA
    Replied 7 months ago
    These are great questions I’ll be adding to my toolbox. I’d love to see your GC contract if you’re willing to share.
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 4 months ago
    Hey David, sorry for the delay in getting back to you...can you send me a PM with your email? I’ll send it right over!
    E Mang
    Replied 6 months ago
    Very helpful for the lay person. Would you send me your contact? There would be so much to learn from.
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 4 months ago
    Sure! Can you send me a PM with your email?
    Bryan Weiss Rental Property Investor from Huntsville AL
    Replied 5 months ago
    Great article...I'll be the 100th person to ask, but would you mind sharing your contract with me? TIA!
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 4 months ago
    Hey Bryan, sure thing- send me a PM with your email and I’ll get it over to you.
    Mofi Oke
    Replied 3 months ago
    Erin, This was a great read! I am in the process of hiring a GC and this helped answer some of my questions. Could you please share the contract that you use with a GC? Thank you!
    Erin Helle Investor from Monterey, CA
    Replied 3 months ago
    Sent you a PM!
    Jonathan Schmidt Rental Property Investor from Colorado Springs, CO
    Replied 2 months ago
    Great article as I’m trying to build my team for my second market. Could you please share the contract you use for hiring a GC? Thank you Erin!
    Kent Lord
    Replied about 2 months ago
    Do you have them fill out a 1099 or send them a copy of insurance?
    Josue Molinari
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Wow, Super helpful and great questions to ask! Thanks for sharing, I would love to see the contract you use for your GC’s :)