12 Questions to Ask a Contractor's References Before Hiring

Amber Guetebier
Written by Amber Guetebier
Updated September 23, 2021
A woman talking on her phone in her house
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A company is only as good as its word, or in this case, other people's words

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You’ve been saving ideas for months, and you’re finally ready to start making your home project dream a reality. But once you get a few estimates and a contractor (or three) to choose from, there’s a critical step you don’t want to skip: checking the contractor’s references. Talking with other homeowners who have worked with each pro is one of the best ways to feel confident in your hiring decision. 

Be sure to ask the contractor for more than one reference (three should be enough). Here are the 12 questions you should always ask each of a contractor’s references.

1. What Kind of Work Did the Contractor Do for You?

Find out what type of project each reference hired the contractor to do. Did they hire the company for repairs, or was it to install brand-new patio pavers? If you’re hiring a contractor for a full basement remodel, you’ll want to talk with someone who had similar work done, not just a small project. (This is also an excellent reason to check with more than one reference, so you always have a backup.) 

2. Did the Contractor Provide You With an Estimate and Explain the Costs to You?

Compare notes: By now, you should have a written estimate from the contractor, and the contractor should have gone over it with you. Ask the references if this happened on their project and if the contractor explained the costs clearly. You should understand every line item cost on the list before entering into a contract. 

3. Did the Contractor Stay on Budget? If Not, Why Not?

An estimate is just that: an estimate. It doesn’t account for additional costs that may come up along the way. Keep in mind that even if a contractor didn’t fit the original budget expectations, it’s important to look into the additional costs. Something beyond their control (for example, unknown termite damage or dry rot) shouldn’t necessarily deter you from hiring the contractor. 

4. If the Contractor Didn’t Stay on Budget, Was the Homeowner Apprised of the Additional Costs Beforehand?

If the contractor needed to go over budget, whether due to a materials upgrade or repairs, find out if the homeowner knew in advance exactly what the costs would be and if they felt the contractor communicated this information with a clear (and written) explanation. 

5. Did the Contractor Show You a Schedule and Explain It to You?

A contractor looking at blueprints with homeowner
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Especially for larger projects, the contractor should have a detailed estimate of how the work will progress each day, and you should have access to this timeline. Ask the contractor’s references if this was the case for their projects.

6. Did the Contractor Finish the Job in the Allotted Time?

Related to keeping the client in the know with the daily job site schedule, ask the contractor’s references if the contractor stayed on top of this timeline. 

7. Were There Any Project Delays? If So, Why?

If there were delays, find out the reason. Was it because the homeowner changed their mind about paint color and the contractor had to redo it? Was it due to illness or another explainable hardship? Related to this, ask how far off the timeline they were. A day or two may be understandable, especially when the weather is a factor. Again, some delays are to be expected and knowing the context behind them can help you make an informed decision. 

8. Did They Have a Crew? Were They Courteous and Respectful?

Both the contractor and their crew are in your home and on your property, so it’s essential to know more about their working style. Some contractors work alone, but for larger jobs, they will likely hire or bring a crew. Find out if the crew and contractor were on time each day, too.  

9. Was the Job Site Kept Clean?

Did the job site look like a disaster zone, or was the crew tidy? Putting away hazardous materials and keeping the site safe go hand in hand with a job well done.

10. Did They Answer Your Questions Throughout the Process?

No matter how experienced a homeowner or the contractor may be, questions will come up, and the contractor must answer these clearly and courteously. 

11. Did They Need To Subcontract at All, and if So, Were You Happy With the Subcontractors They Chose?

Beyond the crew, sometimes contractors need subcontractors (for example, a home remodel may have a lead contractor who hires subcontractors like electricians and plumbers). Did these subcontractors meet the expectations of the homeowners?

12. Would You Hire This Contractor Again?

This one might be the most important question on this list you can ask. Hiring someone back is the best recommendation you can get. 

By making just a few phone calls and using this list of questions to ask your contractor’s references, you’ll soon be well on your way to that dream kitchen (or bathroom, or garden, or new entry door). And if you don’t get the answers you’re hoping for, don’t be afraid to look for a new local contractor.

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