Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Pro for Your Living Room Remodel

Ask smart questions to find the right professionals for your job.

Once you know which types of professionals you need for your job, you can start looking for the pros who will be best for your project. Where to find them?

"Word of mouth is still the best way," says Bruce Graf, owner of Graf Developments. "Ask your friends, neighbors and work colleagues – or stop by a home you see already being renovated and ask questions. And if that yields no results," says Graf, "Look to the local chapters of professional trade associations. These organizations have certain requirements that must be met before a firm can join."

When you have a list of professionals to interview, be ready to ask them plenty of questions, including these.

What kind of insurance do you have?

If a contractor doesn't have proper personal liability insurance, property-damage coverage and worker’s comp insurance for an employee working in your house, you could get stuck with the bill if something goes wrong or somebody is injured.

Are you duly licensed?

In some towns, using un-licensed workers can cost you big-time in municipal fines. Make sure anyone who comes to work for you is approved to do so by your municipality.

Have you done projects just like this?

The best kitchen contractor in the world may not be the right person for your living room renovation, and someone who has only done six-figure renovations may not be able to bring your more modest project in affordably. Look for someone with a good track record of completed projects just like the one you have in mind.

What do you see as the biggest challenge of this project?

Every remodeling project has its sticky points. A contractor who promises you that yours will be completed without a single hitch is either inexperienced or trying too hard to sell the job. "Be wary of people who are over-sure," warns architect Kirsten Thoft. “"It often means they haven’t thought the process through, since there are always questions and unknowns in construction."

Can I speak to some of your past clients?

Any good professional should have positive references and will be willing to share those; anyone who seems vague or sketchy about putting you in touch with satisfied customers many not have any – a major red flag.

Once you've asked the pro the above questions, you may want to ask his past clients a bunch of questions, too. "Ask the references questions about how the relationship worked," says Kirsten Thoft. "How comfortable did the past client feel talking about changes or speaking up if she didn’t understand something? It’s one thing to like design outcomes of a project and another to have it be a pleasant experience."

In other words, remember that in addition to living with the professional’s work in the long run, you are going to have to spend an awful lot of time with the professional in the short-term, too. And if he is temperamental, unprofessional, or just not someone you can relate to comfortably, those few months are going to be much more stressful than they need to be.

What is my gut telling me about this person?

How comfortable do I feel with him or her? "Look at the person and their vehicle," says Graf. "Do they look clean and professional? Is their vehicle old with lots body damage? Is their signage hand painted or their magnetic signage not straight? Basically, if they don't look detail oriented and well put together, neither will your project."

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