Shopping For Contractors: What You Need To Ask

When it comes to the nitty gritty, hands-on electrical, plumbing and building works of your project, it’s essential that you seek the professional experience of contractors. If you decide to dive into doing works on your home without a designer (We’ve written a blog post on reasons to hire an interior designer, if you’re still unsure), there are some key questions you need to ask a contractor before appointing them.

To avoid any misunderstandings, it is important that the design be finalised before engaging any builders. Their quotes are pretty meaningless without a clear idea of what they are meant to be doing. A quote for a “tiled bathroom” will differ dramatically if the tiles are something small and fiddly like mosaic, or large format 90x90cm blocks. These are very different scopes of work and would be priced up accordingly.

It’s also always good to get a few people to quote. There will always be contractors who price low and those who price high, but it’s good to get an idea of what the average price would be for the work you want done. We’d recommend getting four. With four you should see some standardised pricing emerge. Chances are that one won’t be suitable or available and one will be too expensive. If possible ask for fully itemised quotes, as often the person who returns the expensive quote may have included more items or covered more ground. Sometimes, the expensive option is actually the better deal for the amount of work being done. Sometimes. ( Check out our post on planning a building budget for some tips on making sure that you’re spending the right amount. )


Here are some more questions to ask and things to consider:


  • How quickly has the contractor responded to your initial message? You will want someone who is reliable, quick to respond and good at answering questions.
  • Can they give you a reasonable estimate before coming out to see the property? Meeting on site can definitely help after the initial quote, but it’s not necessary for all jobs. Whilst every design is different, an established company should be able to give a ballpark estimate for a Victorian terrace loft conversion.
  • Can they provide references from previous clients, ideally very recent?
  • Find out their availability. When can they start? How much notice would they need to confirm a date and/or hold your preferred dates?
  • How big is their team and how many projects can they take on at once?
  • How do they bill? Most contractors have their own preferred way of charging clients. Most like a larger chunk of the payment up front for materials, followed by staged or weekly payments with a retainer held back until completion. If they prefer stage payments, ask them to clearly outline what works will happen in each stage so you can check the payment against what has actually been done (For example, if fitting the new flooring was under Stage 4 and they have only done half of it, make sure you retain a bit of the payment that would go into stage 5).
  • What do they not supply? What additional costs might you incur?
  • What do they not do? Some contractors don’t provide certain services and you may need to get trades in separately.


Contractors speak a very specific technical language, one that designers are experienced with, and might take some getting used to if  you’re hiring them yourselves. Once you’ve settled on your contractor though, you might want to consider how to best prepare your home for builders.

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