Like so many complex problems, knowing the right questions to ask can make difficult decisions easier. This is especially true with commercial construction, where bottom lines are large and the complications of site acquisition, permitting, inspections and approvals can delay completion of a project. Having the right contractor can make all the difference when considering the importance of the investment.
Here are five questions you should ask when vetting a prospective contractor. Knowing the answers to these will build rapport with the company you eventually choose and ease anxiety in the process:
1. What is your typical project and how does that compare to my project?
Whether it be within healthcare, retail, hospitality, manufacturing or another specific industry, it’s important to know that a contractor can handle your project and has experience with similar projects. This is also the time to find out about how much work the contractor has and if they will have the time and personnel to devote to your project. Knowing this will help you judge if they able to work with the scope and time frame of your project.
2. Who will be in charge of my project? In other words, who will be my main contact?
Meeting and talking to the person with whom you’ll be working during this project will help you judge if he/she is reliable, forthcoming and trustworthy. Make note that he/she returns your phone calls and establishes a communication system and a relationship with you. If they do, this person will greatly enhance your construction experience.
3. Is there an escalation cost clause in my contract? Am I willing to pay if costs rise and, if so, how much?
Like all commodities, construction materials can fluctuate in price for many reasons. Most contractors include an escalation cost clause in their contracts, which acts as a safety net in the construction supply chain. The fluctuating costs of concrete, rebar, steel, lumber and labor are pressing concerns within the industry. Make sure you understand your contract. Discuss this clause and its implications can prepare you for eventualities down the road.
4. How much experience does the contractor and the construction company have?
Asking for and taking note about how willing the contractor is to provide references is vitally important. The biggest part of this question is not simply procuring the information, but using it. Contact past customers and see what they say about the company. If a complaint is consistent and reliable, do some more research—even consider discussing it with the contractor as part of that research. Google the contractor. Read reviews and try to find out what others are saying.
5. What are some things that could go wrong or change during the course of my project?
If you have a schedule for your job, how essential is it that your construction is completed on that schedule? There are an infinite variety of things that can—and will—go wrong in the normal construction process. Letting the prospective contractor know up front about a completion deadline will allow everyone to align their expectations.
A tight schedule is also why you need a contractor with sufficient experience in the industry to form contingency plans and deal with issues promptly.
These are, by no means, the only questions to ask. But, these will open the communication channels with the contractors and give you a sense if their company is right for your project and how they will work with you.