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Q: We’re ready to go to bid on potential contractors-the plans are done, all the options that we can foresee have been selected, and we have a list of recommended contractors we’re going to ask for proposals. One of our biggest concerns is that we’ll “miss something” when we interview them. What are the questions we should ask? We don’t wish to leave anything out.

A: Something I always emphasize is that no matter how many contractors you interview, you should ask each one the same questions. That applies as much to contractors as to architects, real estate professionals and anyone else to whom you will be entrusting great gobs of money.

Another thing I stress is that you should only hire a contractor with whom you can communicate easily and intelligently. There’s no reason you should pay a fortune to someone who is unwilling to discuss your concerns. Be sure to ask how such matters will be addressed.

A third important bit of information to seek is how long the contractors have been working in the field. Many businesses fail and, especially in these uncertain economic times, you don’t want to employ a contractor who won’t be in business a year or two from now, in the event something needs fixing.

Other questions: How many people do they have working for them? How long have their employees been with them? How many employees will they be able to dedicate to your project? Is work going to be subcontracted out? If so, what work, to which subcontractors, and how long has the contractor used them?

Contractors should provide proof of general liability and workers’ compensation insurance, in case your house or a neighbor’s is damaged during the project or one of the workers is injured on your job.

Have the contractors estimate the time when each phase of the work will be completed. That includes estimated start and completion dates and, in your particular case, specific estimates on how long the two distinct phases will take during which the house will be open to the elements.

There are some homeowners who try to keep their job on schedule by offering bonuses if the contractor finishes on time or earlier. The downside is that to obtain the bonus, some jobs get rushed and shortcuts are taken, so you don’t always end up a winner.

References are extremely important. My recommendation has always been to locate the jobs on which the contractors you interview are working now, visit the job sites, and ask the homeowners how things are going. If you wait until the job is completed, memories of good things, as well as bad ones, become distorted.

Once you’ve selected a contractor, make sure that every facet of your job-especially the products to be used in it-are spelled out fully on a written contract that neither you nor the contractor signs until you both have read and discussed it. If you need a lawyer to help you, hiring one is well worth it.

Any change orders must be spelled out contractually as well. If you change the kind of tile you want mid-job, you’ll need to get it down in writing, specifying if the new tile is more expensive than the original or will require costlier labor.

Good luck.

© 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.