Questions to Ask Your Deck Contractor Before You Build

General contractors are the professionals who coordinate large construction projects. If you’re adding on a room to your house, remodeling your home or rooms in it, a general contractor (GC) is the project manager for the work. He/she makes sure the subcontractors (like the carpenters, landscapers, electricians, etc., show up on time, do the work that needs to be done, and not interfere with any of the other subcontractors. It is the general contractor’s job to make sure that all of these pros not only get along but also that they do their work promptly. Hiring a GC is a smart choice as these pros can save you money over the course of a project. However, they also come with their own issues – scheduling, payment and selection of qualified subcontractors, and being overcommitted to too many jobs.

When working with any contractor, it’s essential to:

  • Get at least three quotes from different contractors. Five or more quotes is preferrable, but never just go with the first contractor you talk to. Even if they come highly recommended and have done work for friends, get the extra quotes, so you know what the market price is. You can use those quotes in your negotiation with them as well. Even if they are considered “the best,” there are other contractors as good or better, but you won’t find the best contractor for your job unless you check.
  • Check references. Ask for recommendations and then check them out. Call the person/client and ask to go out and look at the deck the company built. Photos are nice, but there’s nothing like seeing a contractor’s work first hand and up-close so you can check out the quality and meet the homeowners.
  • Conduct both phone and in-person interviews. It’s a good idea to do your initial screening or interviews over the phone. Once you’ve narrowed your list down to five or six contractors, arrange to meet them in person – either on a job site, in their office, or in your home during an estimate. You want to “click” with this person and feel you can trust them as they will be in and around your house for weeks while working on your deck.
  • Do some background checks. Con men are great at making their victims feel at ease and comfortable. They tend to be very friendly, likable, and charismatic. Trust your gut, but also check with your state’s consumer protection agency and your local Better Business Bureau before you hire a contractor for any job. You want to make sure they don’t have a history of disputes with other clients or subcontractors.
  • Google their name as well as their company’s name to see what other people, subcontractors, and companies are saying in forums, reviews, and online. Many times unscrupulous contractors will merely change their company’s name to avoid detection.
  • Check their social media accounts. Do they have a Facebook page? A website? A Twitter, Instagram, or other social media account? How long have they been in business? A few months? A few years? Read the comments in various review sites if you can find them. Once you narrow your search to a couple of contractors check to see if anyone has tried to sue them in the past, or if lawsuits are pending against them. You can find this out with a quick trip to your county courthouse, or online.

If you think you can skip all the background checks and due diligence and just sue, or threaten to sue a bad contractor, you’ll be sorely disappointed if you try. Lawsuits and legal action against contractors are notoriously unsuccessful. They are also expensive, take up a considerable amount of time, and even if you are successful in getting a judgment you still have to collect it – and sometimes it impossible to collect – you can’t get blood from a turnip, and if a contractor has no money or assets, you won’t get much for your efforts. It’s better to spend the extra time and find a reputable pro to begin with.

Questions to Ask Your Contractor

When considering building a deck, the most pressing questions on every homeowner’s mind are:

  • How long will it take?
  • What will it cost?

However, there are other questions you need to ask your contractor.

  • How many decks have you built—and where?
  • How many decks have you built like the one I want?
  • Are you willing to provide financial references, from suppliers or banks? Contractors who want half or all of their cost upfront typically owe suppliers money and aren’t financially stable or creditworthy and could be a problem for you as well.
  • Will you provide permits before the work begins? (That’s how it should work, but not all contractors do this. This is the only way to find out if a variant or other issue exists on your property before any work starts.)
  • Can you give me a list of previous clients? Get phone numbers,  names, and contact information for these clients then call them and ask about how their project went.
  • How many other deck projects would they have going at the same time?
  • How long have they worked with their subcontractors?
  • Who pays the subcontractor? (It’s a good idea to pay subcontractors yourself, so you know they get paid immediately. One of the contractor’s responsibilities involves making sure each of the involved subcontractors and suppliers is paid for their work. In the event that a subcontractor isn’t paid, they may have grounds to pursue legal action against the contractor. Usually, though, it’s easier to pursue action against the owner of the property than it is to go after the contractor. That means you can end up paying twice for work – even if you paid the contractor in good faith, believing they would pay their subcontractors.)

Cost should not be the primary factor for selecting a contractor. The cheapest bid is not necessarily the best bid. If you want something done right, pay a professional. The cost of hiring someone else to go back and fix what the cheapest contractor did wrong will cost you more in the long run.

If you take your time finding the right contractor before you start, your deck will take less time and be easier to finish!