Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Contractor Before a Kitchen Remodel

You may have 100s of questions for your contractor and that’s great. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you like.

But which questions are crucial when comparing and vetting potential contractors? How can you be sure that you are hiring someone trustworthy, transparent, committed, and capable?

That is, someone who won’t keep moving the timeline or surprise you with hidden costs. Someone who won’t leave you in the dark while you wait without a functioning kitchen.

Read on to discover the top 5 questions you need to ask before handing over a deposit or signing on the dotted line.


What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

In our earlier post, 5 Steps to a Home Renovation that Exceed Expectations, we shared the most common complaints homeowners have when working with contractors.

Cost overruns, rushed work, poor communication, and workers who fail to show up when they say they will top the list of gripes.

And homeowners beware: Consumer Reports found that the number of people planning and embarking on home renovations is soaring. This means that “demand for home renovation work is swiftly outpacing the supply of qualified professionals.”

At the same time, 31 percent of contractors admit they are not licensed, registered, and insured.

In the same survey, contractors also reported startling rates of shady industry practices among their peers:

  • 35 percent reported lowballing bids, then increasing costs later with “unforeseen problems.”
  • 31 percent said others use unskilled or inexperienced laborers, often the result of taking on more jobs than they can manage.
  • 24 percent said that other pros overcharge for materials.

It’s more important than ever to protect yourself before entering an agreement with a contractor. (Or an architect or designer, for that matter.)


Avoid Disappointment and Disaster During Your Kitchen Remodel

Your contractor should never rush you through the consultation or bidding phase. In fact, if your contractor doesn’t also have a laundry list of questions to ask you, it may be a red flag that their estimate is not detailed, accurate, or trustworthy.

Before you sign an agreement, you should feel that your contractor clearly understands what you want. And you should also have a clear picture of what steps they will take to ensure you get the kitchen of your dreams.

The best contractors are accessible and maintain an open dialogue with their clients. So don’t be afraid to vet these qualities from the start.

Just be sure you include the following 5 questions when talking to a prospective contractor about your kitchen remodel.

Question #1: What Type of Contract Do You Use?

There are two types of constructions contracts: fixed price and cost plus.

Cost plus contracts are the most common. Unfortunately, that’s because they typically benefit the contractor more than the client.

In a cost plus contract, the client agrees to pay the building expenses stated in the contract plus profit. The building expenses include direct costs like labor and materials as well as overhead costs like office rent, insurance, and mileage.

The “plus” amount may be defined as a percentage of the construction costs or a predetermined fee.

If you’re on a budget, cost plus contracts can be nerve-racking. They leave you vulnerable and uncertain because the total cost is hard to predict.

Remember those “unforeseen problems” some contractors use to inflate costs? A cost plus contract enables contractors to spend more than estimated on expenses and overhead.

With a fixed cost contract, on the other hand, your total cost is just that: fixed.

So even if your contractor discovers existing structural damage or orders the wrong materials, you don’t pay the price for their mistakes. (And really, these are mistakes that an experienced contractor should be able to avoid.)

A fixed price contract puts the onus on your contractor to go through all the specs of your kitchen design in great detail and outline costs down to the finishes, appliances, and site clean-up costs.

For this reason, a fixed price contract is often a sign of deep knowledge, experience, and confidence.


Question #2: How Long Will the Entire Project Take?

It’s important to have a clear picture of when work will begin and end, and every milestone along the way.

Even if your contractor promises to complete your renovation in under three months, ask them follow up questions to make sure they’ve anticipated potential setbacks and considered every contingency.

  • Are you working — or bidding on — any other projects that might affect our timeline?
  • How will you handle any delays in our schedule?
  • Will you inspect for any structural issues that may impact the renovation before setting a timeframe?

Despite what many contractors claim, it is possible to set and adhere to an accurate timeline. It requires a careful consultation phase, during which your contractor should see your kitchen space, communicate with your architect and/or interior designer, and learn about your needs and preferences during construction.

Ask for a construction schedule that shows what will happen each day, week, and month. That way you can prepare for the inevitable disruptions to your living space and minimize the stress of a kitchen remodel.

Question #3: Will I be able to use my Kitchen at all During Construction?

Not all homeowners can afford to go on vacation or rent another space for the duration of their kitchen remodel. Make sure your contractor has a plan to make living through construction as pleasant as possible.

Before finalizing your contract, you should discuss your house rules, working hours, and the specific time periods when your kitchen will not be functional.

You should also discuss solutions for the days you can’t use your sink, fire up your stove, or run electricity to your fridge. Considerate contractors will sometimes set up temporary kitchens within your home when possible. And they will always maintain a safe, clean worksite to keep your kitchen as accessible as possible during construction.


Question #4:  Will you Have Someone on Site Every Day?

This is an important question because the answer can reveal if you’re likely to experience delays and inconsistencies throughout the renovation.

Contractors may have multiple projects underway at once. If you’re not their top priority, they may divert workers to other sites, or fail to personally supervise the construction.

An all-too-common frustration with kitchen remodels is watching the hours, days, and even weeks pass while you wait for your team to get back to work.

Of course, simply having workers in your home is not enough. You need to be confident that the workers are skilled, professional, and held accountable to the highest work ethic and standards.

A team that is not only on site every day, but also carefully supervised by a highly available project manager is your best guarantee of successful kitchen remodel.

Dig deeper by asking your contractor these follow up questions:

  • Will the same team will be working on my kitchen day to day?
  • How do you qualify and insure any subcontractors you may hire?
  • Will I have a dedicated project manager? How often will they be on site?


Question #5: What kind of warranty do you have?

First things first, you need to verify that your contractor has the proper licensing, registration, and certificates of insurance. Don’t become a victim of the 31% who are working without the proper credentials.

Next you need to ask for what many homeowners don’t realize they can ask for: A warranty or guarantee on the contractor’s work.

While not uncommon, warranties can vary widely. Find out exactly what your contractor’s warranty covers and how long it will remain in effect.

Sadly, construction attorneys say that many times, contractors “don’t even understand what a warranty is.” They may think they do, but in reality their warranties are flimsy and nonspecific, leaving you defenseless against poor workmanship or costly delays.

Look for express warranties that cover the quality of labor and materials and faithful adherence to your contract.

We’re Here to Answer Your Questions

At Purcell, we love customers with questions because it means they are invested and prepared. And we often find ourselves providing answers to questions homeowners didn’t know to ask.

It is possible to execute a successful home remodel on time and at the agreed price. It takes an experienced and dedicated team willing to go the extra mile to exceed expectations.

Throughout his over twenty year career managing residential remodels for the most discriminating clients, Tim Purcell, Jr. has refined his knowledge of home design and perfected his renovation process.

Learn what makes the Purcell Process unique (hint: thorough preparation and clear communication are key). And if you have any questions about how to approach your kitchen remodel or other home design project, don’t hesitate to give us a call at (651) 748-1304.