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12 Questions to Ask Contractors Before Remodeling Your Rental

When it’s time to upgrade your rental -- to modernize it or justify a rent increase -- you’re going to want to hire professionals to help you. Depending on the amount of work you want done, you may want to hire a general contractor to take care of everything. Hiring the first person you find online or that you meet while networking isn’t necessarily a good idea.

Your rental property is, ultimately, your responsibility. It needs to be safe and well-maintained for your tenants. The contractor you hire needs to be qualified to do the work, while also meeting deadlines, and being someone you want to work with. When you’re ready to remodel, meet with several contractors, and ask them these 12 questions.

Are you a licensed contractor?

The answer should absolutely be yes to both. Ask for their license number and make sure it’s still active at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) website: If you want to know the answer to this question before you meet with them, find potential contractors at the Building Industry Association of Okaloosa and Walton Counties (BIA) website.

Are you insured?

Ask for a copy of their certificate of insurance. Not only do they need to carry insurance, you also need to know what kind of coverage they have and how much. Many contractors may also be bonded which is an extra security for you that you have recourse if they don’t complete the job or something goes wrong.

How long have you been in business? Who are your references?

Longevity doesn’t automatically mean they’re the best company around and new contractors aren’t automatically clueless. But knowing about their experience may help you narrow down your choices. Asking for references should be standard, but the next part is most important: follow up and actually check those references. Talk to other landlords or businesses who’ve worked with them in the past.

How many projects like mine have you done?

General contractors do all kinds of work. Some specialize in home renovations and some don’t. This will give you an idea of their experience. When you talk to references, focus on those that had similar work done.

How many projects do you usually handle at one time?

What you’re trying to determine is whether or not your remodel will be a priority and whether it’s likely to stay on schedule. If your contractor has a dozen projects going, the follow-up question is, “How will my job stay on schedule?” Experienced contractors should know exactly how they’ll make this work.

How big is your crew? Do you hire subcontractors?

With regards to subcontractors, most contractors hire them. So the follow up question is: will they be insured as well? You need to know how risk and liability will be taken care of in case there’s a problem. A small crew doesn’t mean the contractor can’t get the job done, and a large crew doesn’t guarantee the work will be done quickly. But this lets you know what you can expect, and how many people will be in your rental.

Do you offer a warranty?

A good warranty is important for any home project, but for a rental it’s even more important. If something goes wrong, you want to be able to call the company responsible and get it fixed immediately. The longer your tenants have to wait, the angrier they’ll get, and the more you’ll have to deal with it. If your contractor provides a warranty, get it in writing.

Who takes care of the permits and inspections?

Most contractors should say they’ll take care of it as part of the renovation process, depending on the scope of your job. They should also build the timing of permits and inspections into their proposal for you, so that you get a realistic picture of how long this is going to take. Finishing in six weeks sounds nice, but if the reality is closer to 12 weeks because of permitting, you need to know that now.

How will we communicate?

Are you going to get daily updates from the job foreman? Weekly reports? Can you call at any time? Communication is important because when you don’t hear about progress, it’s easy to assume none is being made. If communication is important to you, how a contractor answers could help you decide between one company and another.

Is your bid fixed or an estimate?

While you’re talking about the bid, get an itemized bid so you can see the individual estimates. This will help you compare one bid to another to find the best price. But you also need to know whether this price is set or if it could fluctuate. It’s common for unexpected problems that cost money to pop up in a home renovation, but you also shouldn’t be shocked when the final bill is due, either.

Who are your main suppliers?

This lets you know who they work with to get their supplies for the job. If you know those suppliers, you may be able to form a better opinion (good or bad) about this contractor. And if you don’t know them, contact them as an additional reference. They may tell you things that other landlords or references might not have been able to.

How will you protect my property?

This is a rental, so it will most likely be vacant while they’re working. But will they protect the walls and flooring they’re not working on? Will they take precautions not to damage other areas of the home? A good contractor has a plan in place and should have no problems sharing this information with you.

You can ask all the right questions and still end up working with a bad contractor. But taking the time to dig in and investigate them a bit makes that less likely. If it sounds like a lot of work to hire a contractor, it is. Another option is work with a property management company that has a vetted list of contractors and service providers.

At ERA American Real Estate, we’ve done the work for you and know that we can trust our contractors to provide excellent work. We can help you manage your rental property and make it better.

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