17 Questions to Ask an Awning Company BEFORE You Hire Them

Photo Source: Unsplash.com

Hiring any contractor can be a scary prospect, and we’ve heard some true horror stories. To help reduce some of the stress and risk with hiring someone to install your awning, we’ve created a list of 17 questions that you should ask before signing a contract. In each question, we will let you know why we are asking the question, what information you should be listening for, and how important the question is. It’s doubtful that you’ll meet a contractor who hits all 17 questions exactly as we hope; however, this will aid you in figuring out how much risk there is with each option. With that perspective, it’ll be easier to identify the best option for your individual project.

1. How long have you been in business?

You are looking for a company that has been in business at least two years. There’s no harm in working with someone who’s beein business for decades. This just increased the likelihood that the installer will be around should there be any issues. While that’s my recommendation, I am willing to be somewhat flexible on this in a couple of situations. If they have solid references/feedback on sites like Yelp or HomeAdvisor. Some unscrupulous contractors will fake reviews, so definitely read them carefully and check that the reviewer has written other posts on the site. If all their feedback comes from people who’ve never rated another vendor, it’s not a company I’d consider working with. The second reason is that they provide a significant price discount to be one of their early customers with the agreement that you’ll write a review on one or more of the sites. Our family was a “reference client” for a carpet company. We received estimates from Home Depot and Lowe’s for just over $3k, but found someone who was willing to buy and install the carpet for $1200. He was liscensed and insured, and we decided the savings were worth the risk. Ultimately, we had a terrific experience and now use his company for all our home rennovations.

2. How long have you been installing awnings?

A lot of general contractors or handyman use this as a side hustle. There’s nothing wrong with this for most residential awnings. You just want to ensure they have some experience with awnings, canopies or whatever you’re hiring them to do. I would never ever want to be a contractors first client regardless of price.

3. Is this your primary line of work?

The key to this question is a straight-forward, direct response. I’m perfectly fine if someone says “No” as I’m looking for honesty. I don’t want a contractor who is trying to be tricky with his phrasing.

4. Do you service, repair or clean awnings?

Companies who exclusively install awnings will usually provide these services. If you are hiring a handyman or carpenter, they are less likely to handle this. If they don’t, you can ask “Who do you recommend for this” as an amazing follow-up question. If they have a reference off the top of their head, you can be assured they have a lot of experience with awnings. If they can’t name another company, it’s not a red flag as the owners may have a policy agaist providing specific recommendations.

5. Do you have a design and engineering staff?

This is a bit of a trick question. For most home awnings, these are totally unnecessary. If you are asquiring a custom awning for a business or storefront, then these are crucial. However, for a simple home awning, these are overkill. They shouldn’t be needed so you should have questions if these are included on the invoice.

6. What awning manufacturers do you work with?

Installers will usually work with multiple manufacturers, and it would be a red flag if they only work with one company. I prefer having different price/quality options and installers that work with several companies usually have more options to better fit what you’re looking for. The reason I prefer installers who work with multiple brands is that they can offer the best product from each manufacturer. This means they may choose aluminum fixed awnings from one company and retractable fabric awnings from another. When an installer specializes, they will be pigeonholed to selling and installing their one solution even if it’s not the best for your individual house.

7. Will you install an awning, I purchase elsewhere.

Purchasing a packaged awning on Amazon or other online store can often save 50% when compared with getting the exact same item through the installer. Buying directly allows you to avoid the markup that the installation companies have to include to protect their profit margin and themselves from non-paying customers. We’ve heard some installers ask for an additional fee for installing a product that you procure. On this note, you can’t always assume you’ll get the awning cheaper from Amazon or Home Depot. Installers will often have dealer only pricing meaning that they can get the awning and brackets cheaper than you could get it retail. It’s always best to do a full financial analysis before spending your hard earned money.

8. Are you liscensed and insured?

This question is a complete deal breaker. Each state will have different laws, but they will all have some guidelines for the contractor. Most states have a threshhold for price of a project. Anything above that amount requires being a liscensed contractor. The amount varies from state to state; however, we strongly recommend only using liscensed contractors even for small projects like a single window install. This will provide additional protection if there is any damage that you later need to submit to your homeowners’ policy. Speaking of insurance, I have an absolute non-negotiable rule of only hiring companies that have both workers’ compensation insurance AND liability insurance. I even ask to see their certificates on both. The workers’ comp insurance protects me as the home owner for any injuries or accidents that occur while the technician is on my property. The liability insurance ensures the work is going to be done to a satisfactory level and that you have a remedy if it is not. My mother hired a landscaping company to handle some large bushes and trees her yard. While removing the foliage, the anchors on their truck damaged the driveway. We had before and after pictures, and on the day of service we even had the technician sign a letter stating that he had damaged the driveway while removing the foliage. We obtained this signature because we refused to sign the statement of work for the day until we had a written acknowledgement of the damage. That day , the owner also left a voicemail apologizing and promising to pay for the repairs. He said he didn’t want to turn it in on his insurance and that he’d pay of everything out of his pocket. However, after paying the landscaping bill to avoid service charges, he blocked our number and stopped returning any emails to us. Since he never showed us any of his insurance information, we had no ability to file a claim. We eventually consulted an attorney who sent a demand letter. The owner called the attorney’s office and stated that he had zero intention of paying and that he would welcome a lawsuit from us. He said the pictures that we sent him didn’t prove his employees were the culprit that it could have been damaged the morning before they arrived. He also said the signed letter wouldn’t hold up, and that if he had to hire an attorney he would countersue for any court fees and attorney expenses. After that call, our attorney shared their conversation. It was incredibly frustrating for us, but we decided to just let everything go. The total property damage was just under $1000, and we spend $200 for the lawyer on the demand letter. Going to court would cost more than the fix, and that’s before any filing fees or the risk of his attorney’s fees. While it’s unlikely we’d have to pay for that, the threat was enough for my elderly mother to completely drop the issue. 100% of this incident could have been avoided if she had simply gotten his insurance information in advance.

9. Do you handle getting permits and scheduling inspections?

In many states, an awning with support legs must be approved and permitted as an extension to the home. It’s best to always ask this before any work is started. The permits and inspection fees can run a couple hundred dollars. Some companies include these fees in their quote while others do not. You need to know this upfront so that you can properly compare apples to apples in selecting a builder.

10. What costs are included in the estimate?

I always ask for an itemized breakdown of the cost of a project. I want to make sure that haul away and recycling is included. I would like an idea how many hours of labor they plan, and how much they charge per hour. I also look for line items on inspections and how much they charge for materials. Some companies are unwilling to break their quote down to this level, and it’s not a dealbreaker for me; however, if this is the case I would be incredibly careful with the details written with specific details to cover all aspects of the project. For home awning installs, I would also be unwilling to pay a large amount of the fee before the work begins. A family friend hired a company to do some remodeling, and she paid 50% upfront. They spent a few days at her house doing some demolition, and then told her the issue was more serious than expected and revised the quote by tripling it. This was far beyond her budget, and when she refused the revised project the company exercised their out clause, but kept all her down payment. Since then, I’ve heard that they did this to many other people in the area so it’s best never to make a large down payment. If a pre-payment is required, then create a milestone that when completed results in more fees to the contractor. An awning install is going to complete in a single day, but I wanted to include this for people who are doing larger projects like enclosed sunrooms or pergolas.

11. What is the timeline for an installation?

My father who remodeled a lot of houses, always got the timeline in writing. Furthermore, he insisted on a clause that the company would be responsible for a fee for each day late the project was complete. As an example, if the company stated they would complete the a $2000 project in two weeks, he would ask if they were confident in the date. Invariably, they would say yes, and then he would say then “As you know, I’m on a tight schedule and since you’re confident in your timeline, would you agree to cover my $100/day carrying fees if the work isn’t complete in 3 weeks.” I still smile thinking back how the contractors eyes got big when my father would ask the first time. I’ll be honest, a lot of contractors would never agree to this especially the first time we worked with them. However, the counter agreement was that we could pay very little down with the bulk of the payment due within 30 days of project completion. This still posed the risk of delaying the overall remodel, but did limit the risk that we’d be billed for incomplete projects.

12. What are the payment terms?

When materials are being ordered, companies will often ask for 50% upfront with the remainder due at proejct completion. I normally try to negotiate this down to 25% due at project start and 75% at project completion. For projects that are simply labor, I have been able to get the vast majority of my projects with a 100% payment at completion. Most of which even have net 30 terms meaning that we are billed when the work is done, and then I simply submit a credit card payment within the month to avoid any finance fees.

13. How should we communicate?

I really prefer to have the installers cell phone number. I also want to communicate all terms through email so there is a digital footprint that we can introduce should a lawsuit arise. I would also never waive my right to sue. Some companies want you to sign away your right to sue and agree to legal arbitration. We built a home, and this line was in the purchase agreement. Thankfully, I had a lawyer read over the contract, and we did not agree to that term. Our attorney said she assumed most people don’t read the full contract and just sign every blank. This is not a good idea. It is time consuming to read the documents, but understand those contracts can come into play if there are any disagreements after the fact.

14. What times of day will you be working?

This is a pretty open question, and you are just verifying that their schedule will work with your HOA bylaws. Some communities have guidelines that work can’t begin before 9am or after 4pm. You just want to verify your bylaws and ensure your contractors will abide by any terms to avoid getting a community fine.

16. How do we handle disagreements?

Never sign away your right to sue. I had a custom built home in 2003, and to my surprise deep in the contract was a waiver to sue their company and handle any disagreements via binding arbitration. This was marked as optional, but I am guessing that the vast marjority of people who built a house signed this without even reading that clause or understanding what it meant. The best answer for the contractor is that they will handle them in a manner to be fair to both parties. I get suspicious if they overly offer things when there is not problem. It’s very easy to say they will do everything possible to make the customer happy, but change their tune when there is an actual project with financial implications on the line.

17. Is the quote an estimate or “Fixed Price”?

I could write a book on the number of horror stories I’ve heard on this. Homeowners will get a “quote” with the expected cost of a project only to find the amount they are billed to be double or triple the price due to unforseen complications. It seems like every flipping show on HGTV has a surprse like this. When getting a quote understand the difference in the two terms. An estimate is an approximation of the cost of completing the job with the informtion known at the time. There should be some framework saying that the work won’t exceed some percentage of the quoted amount. This protects the company doing the work, but also provides the homeowner some piece of mind and ability to budget. A fixed price quote which I strongly prefer is a binding amount that a problem will be solved for a precise dollar amount. This places nearly all the risk on the awning installation company. Some companies will agree to assume this risk and offer a fixed price bid at a premium, and I am normally willing to pay an additional 15% to have all the risk on the contractor.

Last Updated:November 29, 2022