5 Questions to Ask a NYC General Contractor Before Hiring One

Remodeling any part of your home is a big project, and finding the right contractor is hard. Here are important questions to ask before hiring a general contractor.

If you’re looking to renovate your home, you’re probably asking yourself some of these questions: How do I know which contractor I should work with? How do I avoid getting scammed? How do I stay away from the countless horror stories I’ve heard about home renovations?


Ultimately, assuaging these fears comes down to working with the right team. But how do you know you’re working with the right team?


Aside from doing obvious research like making sure your contractor is licensed, carries proper insurance, has reviews online, and has references you can speak with, you’ll need to do some hard work yourself. These are basic requirements that won’t tell you everything you need to know. It’s just as important to spend time asking questions and getting a good read on your contractor yourself.


After all, it’s better to love your contractor than to be one of the countless homeowners who become enraged at the mention of theirs.


Checking Off the Basics


Before you come up with a list of questions to ask a general contractor before hiring one, you need to do your own research. For instance, you must check every prospective contractor’s license on your state’s or city’s website to make sure it’s legitimate. In New York City, general contractors are licensed by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, which has an online system where you can check the license.


Next, search each contractor’s name online to see what reviews say, and check any Google or Houzz.com ratings of them. Online reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, but several negative comments should be a red flag.


Assuming the contractor’s credentials are legitimate, the next step is to determine whether he or she is a good fit for you and your home renovation project. To do that, you’ll have to spend time getting to know your contractors during your initial consultation instead of taking a quick walk through your home, briefly discussing renovation possibilities, and calling it good.


Now that you’ve confirmed the basics, you need to know exactly what to ask a contractor when remodeling your home. These five questions are a good start:


1. Can I see some previous projects?


References are important, but don’t put too much emphasis on them. Unless those references are your own friends and family members, they’re likely not completely accurate. After all, would you provide a reference that doesn’t speak highly of you?


Instead, ask to see a few previous renovations in person, especially those that are similar to your own project. Only by seeing past work for yourself can you truly see the quality of the finished project and how well the contractor’s work holds up over time.


2. How would you do this in your own home? 


All good contractors possess the skill of balancing cost and quality, which gives them the ability to provide valuable advice regarding materials, layout options, and more. If you’re too focused on cost, even good contractors will be limited in what they can do for you.


Mind the budget, but ask contractors how they would approach the project if it were in their own home and why they would make those choices. Realistically, good contractors don’t wait to be asked this question; they give you their input and advice without being prompted for it.


3. How long should my project take? 


When choosing a contractor, people often make the mistake of taking the behind-the-scenes logistics for granted. Who will accept materials, inspect them, and deal with defects? If your contractor doesn’t include these in the proposal and timeline, then they’ll fall on your shoulders.


One of the most important questions to ask a general contractor before hiring him or her is what kind of timeline you can expect. Including the legwork, a typical NYC kitchen or bath renovation takes four to six weeks in an apartment building and just a bit less in a private home. Be wary of any timeline that’s significantly shorter than that.


4. What unexpected things should I expect?


Your contractor should want to help you realize your vision, but if he or she agrees to everything you suggest, then it’s likely too good to be true. A good contractor will help you understand what’s feasible and can help you prepare for unexpected challenges.


Of course, you wouldn’t want your contractor to shoot down everything you say, but he or she should be able to tell you whether what you’re asking for would be challenging and why. That includes securing approval from your building’s board, handling materials, and purchasing finishes.


5. What is not included in your proposal that you will need in order to have a fully finished project?


This is a very important question to ask because not all contractors are created equal. Some contractors provide only their labor and raw materials, not the actual finishes, so it becomes up to you to purchase and deal with those. Other firms handle every aspect of your project. Some contractors will be vague about what is and isn’t included in their work. They often do this on purpose to provide you with a proposal that has a very appealing price attached to it. Chances are, however, that your contractor is setting you up for change order hell.