New patio projects open up new possibilities for your backyard and give it a new — dare we say — luxurious look.
In general, hardscaping is not cheap or easy; however, most people reach out to professional contractors to get the patio of their dreams. But there are things to ask before signing a deal that you should be aware of.
The most important questions to ask a contractor about your patio project are “Are you licensed” and “Are you insured?” These are the first questions to shoot for to protect yourself from property damage or a poorly done job.
With that being said, they aren’t the only questions. Read on if you’d like to know how you can help prevent things from going south!
What Is a Contractor?
I’m sure you have the general idea of what a contractor is. They’re someone who comes in to do work for you — but not everyone understands how they operate.
In short, general contractors sometimes work under a company but aren’t necessarily employees. However, they also work solo.
They can set their hours and when they’d like to work rather than a set schedule. They are also generally responsible for applying their equipment. For example, a plumbing contractor would need their tools and vehicle.
They blur the lines between an employee and freelancer.
A contractor typically hops between different companies to find work since contractors are employed for a limited time.
There are pros and cons to this arrangement. Contractors can choose when to work, but they don’t receive benefits an employee would.
They get work done, send an invoice to the project owner or contractor company, then get paid. Because contractors can vary in how they do things, they are often hit or miss.
There’s a lot to consider before beginning to work with a contractor. Yes, you get a general idea through some research on the company or the person. However, you need to implore caution before sinking the money required for your outdoor project.
Here are some of the key questions you need to ask any contractor.
Are You Licensed?
This is a big one. Technically, anyone can learn how to do hardscaping if they are passionate enough to dedicate the time. But it is important for contractors in the business to be licensed whether the state requires it or not.
“Why?” you may ask. A license shows that the contractor is qualified and professional. While unlicensed contractors don’t automatically mean you will get poor results, it is best to ensure you work with someone that knows what they’re doing.
Do You Have a Contract?
This is one of the more important questions to ask on this list. If you have to ask one, at least let it be this one. Why is a contract so important?
To put it simply, it protects you against many things that can go wrong. This may be financial matters or the quality of the work being done.
Having a contract and thoroughly reading it can save you a lot of headaches, including unexpected charges. Additionally, the individual agreements are less likely to be broken once they’re in writing.
Luckily, any serious contractor wants to have a contract to protect themselves from non-paying customers and to properly limit the scope of their work.
Is There a Guarantee With Your Work?
This is another big question to ask since it can protect you from a poorly done project and needs repairs.
Quality contractors will generally promise satisfaction with their work. If not, any repairs won’t be charged within a certain amount of time.
If there is no guarantee similar to this, it is best to look the other way!
Are You Insured?
Hardscaping requires getting hands dirty on your property, and not all jobs go according to plan; namely, there is a small chance of some sort of property damage being accidentally done.
A contracting company should have liability insurance to compensate its customers if one of its contractors causes property damage. If the company lacks insurance, you are liable for any damaged caused. You can of course settle this in court, but that can often be more costly than the damages you receive.
Can You Provide Estimates?
You should know how much you will be paying for a contractor’s service. Remember, this is a big investment! You should not be shocked at the final sticker price because they left out details on pricing.
Don’t stop at just asking for a simple estimate — it should be itemized. You should receive a document with each line item clearly recorded. Factors such as how long the crew will be there and material costs must be included.
What Dates and Times Will You Show Up?
It’s useful to be aware of when they plan to arrive to the job-site, so there are no surprises.
If everyone is on the same page, there will be no “Oh; I wasn’t expecting you, can you come back later?. It’s good for both parties to have a schedule that everyone agrees on. It makes things run smoothly overall, and everyone can go about their day.
Are You Able to Show Me References/Past Work?
Everyone has to start somewhere. If you choose a less experienced contractor, they may not have an extensive work history. But it is still helpful to ask for references, so you know that they are the real deal.
A confident contractor with good work under their belt won’t hesitate to share past results with you.
Normally ask for at least five references including pictures of the job in question.
If they act like they don’t want to show you anything regarding past customers, that is quite suspicious! People want to wear positive feedback on their back as proudly as possible.
How Will You Tackle the Patio Foundation?
The foundation of your patio will decide how the project will turn out overall. Installing a patio isn’t just about throwing down bricks and calling it a day; it is a careful process of ensuring that everything comes together properly to avoid any immediate or future issues.
Ask what foundation process they will use and how they plan to prevent weeds from sprouting on your patio and it sinking or shifting. Poorly done foundations can cause these issues, and if you start to notice these problems after the guarantee of quality work “warranty,” you are out of luck.
Experienced patio installers will be able to tell you what materials will be best based on your property, as well as how they plan to build around any drainage concerns. As we said above, a lot goes into building a new patio that is of high-quality. You are paying a lot of money for this, so it is worth making sure you hire someone who reflects the amount of money you are giving them.
Will You Help Me Design My Patio?
Good contractors will work with you every step of the way to ensure you are getting exactly what you want and offer advice based on your property and tastes.
Experienced workers will have seen all sorts of patio designs and can chime in on what might work best for you, such as what material may look best with your specific garden, as well as design a layout that makes sense.
Be sure to design the patio around how you plan to use it. Do you want a patio for visual reasons, or do you plan to host plenty of cook-outs/parties? This will determine how big a patio might work best for you and where it should be located on your property.
Spend more time planning before making a final decision so that the result is something you are completely satisfied with.
We recommend considering checking out Ultimate Guide: Walks, Patios & Walls Design Ideas for some inspiration!
How to Find Quality Contractors
If you type in “patio contractor” on Google, you’ll likely see plenty of options pop up around your area, especially if you live near a city and even more so if there are many homeowners in your area. We will be going over our tips on how you can find quality contractors in your area so you can get the best for your money.
We will link a video down below if you’d like more insight on this topic – getting as much info as you need can’t hurt:
Try to Get As Many Bids As You Can
It is always good to compare many different contractors to each other to decide who will work best for you.
Contractors are always looking for work — it is their livelihood, after all. They will generally take as much as they can handle (sometimes more than that).
Thus, posting a bid for your patio project should yield several interested in your job posting. It is best to have 4-6 contractors to go over to get a general idea of how much you should be paying and compare different proposals to get an idea of who you want to choose.
Do a Background Check
Taking a contractor’s word for it is one thing, but you should do a background check to see if they can cover the important details. Especially whether they are licensed or if their contracting company guarantees their work.
Get the company’s name, address and visit their website to see how they present themselves, and give good reasons to choose them, such as references to past work, showing glowing reviews, and promising quality service.
Additionally, research whether the company has any major complaints recorded or previously encountered legal trouble.
This can help you dodge any sketchy businesses and won’t take too much of your time.
Also, and this is not a sponsor, Angie’s list and similar services can be relatively quick to skim through various contractors. You’ll be able to see their rating and past feedback, which takes a lot of the guessing work out of it – these services are popular for a reason, and so it is worth a shot!
Ask People for Recommendations
Experiences from real people can be one of the best things to go off when deciding what contract to hire. You can join social media groups or forums in your area and ask if anyone has had a good experience with a patio contractor in the area. If you go to the right place, you should at least get a few answers.
Additionally, ask friends and family who they might recommend. Double-check even if you do get a recommendation, but at least you will be sent on the right path.
People can have very different experiences with the same contracting company or contractor. Some contractors are hit or miss with their service, and that is something to look out for.
Look for Good Company Policies
This can fall under the background check section, but this is a helpful tip on its own. Lean toward a contracting company that prides itself on being straightforward with their customers.
Even though contractors themselves have quite a bit of freedom, they still have to abide by any company’s policies. Remember, the company pays for the contractor’s work at the end of the day. They have the right to withhold payment if work isn’t completed in an agreed timeframe or break policies.
A good contracting company will want to satisfy customers, so they keep coming back and recommending their service to others.
Read the Contract
We want to give a last bit of advice to always read everything on a contract before signing it. We already went over that having a contract in the first place can protect you, but note that they can also be used against you if you sign something without reading it first.
Key info that should be on the contract you are handed is as follows:
- Start and completion dates
- Contact information
- A fixed quote or the maximum you can be charged (don’t rely exclusively on “estimates”)
- Payment schedule
- Usage of home facilities
- Project cleanup
- A clear description of the service being provided
- Payment terms
- Insurance verification
- Consequences of non-payment for both parties
This is a lot to remember, but looking for the key things such as clear payment information, quality assurance, and work schedule will help avoid headaches later on.
The contract should be clear without leaving important things up in the air. Don’t sign anything that you aren’t comfortable with, and always ask questions that you may have. Depending on the contract, there is no getting out of it as soon as you sign it, so this is an area to be careful with.
Also, be on the lookout for contractors who seem to want you to sign without reading anything at first; this is a red flag in any business and signals that something is up.
Remember, good contractors, want to be transparent with you and pride themselves on offering good service without being fishy. Even if the contract is a long read, it is worth it if you’ve made it that far with them.
It’s important for your contractor and you to have a clear understanding of what is going on with the project regarding payment, quality of service, work schedule, and insurance.
A good contractor can make your patio project a pleasant experience with amazing results, and you don’t have to just “hope for the best.” Ask as many questions as you want, and keep in mind the other tips we mentioned to avoid getting burned.