1. Do you have insurance (general liability coverage) and workers compensation insurance?
Again, the answer to both of these better be a yes. General liability insurance protects your home and property in the event of a disaster. Workers compensation protects you from liability if the carpenters get injured while working on your property. By the way, all of the sub-contractors working on our project should carry general liability and workers compensation insurance policies, too!
You can also be specific and ask for proof of insurance, the type of insurance the general contractor has and how much coverage they have (a $500,000 policy — minimum — is a good start). What happens if the firm has started construction on your new home but then it gets destroyed by a tornado? You want to be sure the GC’s general liability insurance will cover the cost to re-build.
2. Do you provide customers with written lien waivers?
Once the job is completed, you should receive a legal document from your contractor stating that you have paid him in full, and that he waives his right to place a mechanics lien on your property (this should include lien releases from sub-contractors, too).
3. Does the commercial builder offer design-build services? Or will you need to hire an architectural firm separately?
A company being able to offer design-build services can save substantial amount on cost and project delivery time of completion. You will be able to to hold one firm accountable instead of two firms pointing fingers at a time when issues arise during the construction phase.
4. How is your billing cycle set up? How often do you invoice customers during the project?
It’s common practice for a GC to ask for a down payment to begin work on your project (usually in the ballpark of 25 percent of the project’s estimated value). Reliable contractors should also have enough working capital to use in the event they have to make product purchases quickly on your behalf (a working capital of $50,000 is acceptable).
5. Do you handle the permitting process and inspection or do we have to coordinate that?
Your general contractor should handle this. Period. You are not responsible for pulling permits or dealing with the town’s building inspector.
6. Do you have a list of client references? Do you also have a list of subcontractors, vendors (material suppliers) and architects and designers that have partnered with you that I can call?
Past clients are the most appropriate people to talk to because they’ve already experienced what you are potentially about to undertake with this GC. Ask them very candid and specific questions. Ask about the quality of work, budget, timeliness, cleanliness, safety, level of professionalism and if their goals and expectations were met.
Also check businesses that partner with the GC! Make sure the contractor is in excellent standing with all of the subs they hire and vendors from which they purchase materials.
7. Have you done a project comparable to mine? What were the biggest challenges?
Experience and expertise really count in this field! No two custom projects are ever the same. What matters is whether or not the GC can handle complex issues, and if he has the competence to successfully complete your project or not. Ask about a specific concern you have and assess whether the GC’s response reassured you or caused further anxiety.
8. Who is on-site managing my project on a daily basis, and who is ultimately responsible for my job?
The superintendent is a key factor of a successful project completion. You need to obtain qualifications of the project manager and superintendent who will be overseeing day-to-day activities on your project.
9. What software or technology does the firm use to manage your project?
Precise and consistent collaboration is a key differentiation between the quality of service you receive from your commercial general contractors. Utilizing technology for project management is a key for effective construction management.
10. What are the safety processes of the construction company? How does the company implement safety on their job sites?
Commercial construction projects are at high risk for fatalities. The company need to have clear safety plan and processes in place. You should ask for company safety procedure and plan to minimize risk on your job site.
11. How many projects do you have going on right now?
You want to be sure your GC is attentive/responsive to you and doesn’t put your project on the back-burner. The number of projects he can run simultaneously depends on how effective his firm is and how they’ve met deadlines previously.
12. How do you stay current and on top of trends?
New and better products are constantly being developed in home building. Your contractor needs to actively stay on top of product introductions, service innovations and industry trends by doing several of the following on a regular basis: attending conferences, taking continuing education classes, reading trade magazines, subscribing to industry newsletters, meeting with sales reps and networking with industry professionals.