Blog - Providing Insight into Residential Architecture and Construction

Getting Started: The Reference Questionnaire

Contractor Reference Questionnaire NJ Architect  “God is in the details.”  Those famous words, attributed to the architect Mies van der Rohe,  shed light upon how architecture relies on the minute moments to enliven the essence of a space.  (Side note: We also prefer this positive idiom referencing God, rather than “The Devil”).

When it is time to transition from architectural drawing to physical construction, the quality of your investment will be a direct reflection of the quality of your contractor. Finding a reliable contractor who understands the architectural design intention, and can produce professional quality workmanship below budget, while meeting the project’s deadlines, is a great trifecta.

While architects can aid in finding a contractor, you may be comfortable asking for referrals from friends and family.  While a contractor’s portfolio of built work is important, we also encourage speaking with the contractor’s previous clients to find out what the jobsite (read your house) was like throughout the construction phase.

Below is our questionnaire for referral clients, so you can ask the right questions to help you make an informed decision on choosing your future contractor.

  1. What type of work has the contractor done for you (size and scope)?

    This is the best way to ensure you are comparing “apples-to-apples”.  In other words, while a portfolio filled with glistening marble bathrooms may look pristine, if you are looking to complete an entire first floor gut renovation, it would be wise to investigate a contractor with broader experience.  And, a contractor who has worked on projects of your desired scale will have a better handle on how to properly bid the project, how to set a realistic timeline, and will have an established network of subcontractors.

  2. Did the contractor complete the work on schedule and on budget?

    Remember that the construction process establishes a business relationship between owner and contractor.  Your main objective is to find a contractor who will finish your project within the initial budget and on schedule. This question opens the avenue to discuss any additional costs or time needed due to: unknown physical conditions present at the site (asbestos, severe water damage, structural deficiencies), contractor’s negligence, hidden costs (such as cost of permits)?

  3. Were the contractor’s itemized costs clear? 

    Prior to awarding your project, you may desire for several contractors to place their bids.  Each bid should be itemized to reflect the cost breakdown of building material and labor.  Once awarded, the itemized bid helps you establish your payment schedule (see #8), as it will serve as proper documentation of the scope of work of any transaction.

  4. How did the contractor handle changes to the project scope after the project was awarded?

    Even with signed and sealed architectural drawings, it is not uncommon for changes to arise during construction.  Sometimes, the change is very minor – such as swapping a different countertop material – but sometimes, the scope may either reduce or increase drastically.  If any of these are the case, it is important to know how the contractor handled this change.  Was a “credit”, or refund, given back to the client?  Was the itemized fee for the change order fair? How drastically did this change affect the project schedule?

  5. How often was your contractor on-site?

    It is important to have a contractor’s presence on the job site to oversee the quality of the work, and the coordination of various trades.  Contractors often juggle several jobs, and while a contractor may delegate work to others, s/he must be present on the site to ensure a high quality of construction is being met.  If the general contractor wasn’t on site, was there a competent person overseeing the work?

  6. Was it easy to contact your contractor during off-peak hours?

    For some reason, a sudden leak or similar problem tend to arise after the standard work day. As the responsible party, the contractor must rectify the problem immediately.  Having someone who will answer your calls and emails in a timely manner is imperative during and after the construction process.

  7. Did the contractor maintain a clean and orderly job site?

    If you will be living in your home while a renovation is ongoing (or, even if you are located off-site), you’ll want to ensure the site was kept tidy and secure throughout the day, and that the contractor’s team was respectful and trustworthy.

  8. Was a payment schedule made and kept? 

    We advise that final payment should be made once the final inspection has been passed and the "punch list" has been completed.  Did the contractor demand progress payments that exceeded the value of the completed work? 

  9. Were there any problems with the finished project a year after completion?

    Once a project is finished and a contract has been fulfilled, you have little leverage over the contractor should any problems arise.  A project that has problems within a year or two of completion indicates poor workmanship/poor quality materials. If this is the case, one positive factor would be if the contractor honored his or her workmanship warranty.

  10. And, probably most telling, would be:

  11. Would you hire this contractor again?

    If a previous client is not pleased with the contractor’s overall service, perhaps it is time to expand your search.   

These questions should get an honest conversation flowing, to help you understand what person you’ll be having in your life for the next few weeks or months. 

You can download a printable version of our questionnaire here.

Please feel free to add thoughts in the comment section below!