What you need to know before you hire a contractor
In 2011, $63 billion was spent in the renovation sector in Canada, exceeding new home construction expenditures by approximately $20 billion. You can create the home of your dreams by taking a solid home in a neighborhood you love and renovating the interior. Changing out finishes and moving walls seems easy on TV but there’s a great deal involved in a renovation. You will most likely need (or want) to hire a contractor, especially if you’re dong major work like taking out walls or changing the floorplan. All of the work requires permits and will need to be performed to code, so for that you need an expert.
A general contractor is the site boss of your renovation project. He or she is the manager, the overseer and the coordinator for the project. Some will be onsite swinging a hammer along with the tradespeople but another might spend most of his time in the office managing the details. The contractor deals directly with the architect (if there is one involved), the inspector and the tradespeople to get everything done right in your home. A good contractor will make sure the work stays on schedule and on budget, too. There are a lot of contractors in Waterloo region so we put together a list of questions you can ask, when you’re calling around looking to hire one for renovating your Kitchener-Waterloo home.
How long have you been in business in Waterloo Region?
Everyone has to start somewhere but do you really want to be your contractor’s first job? You want an established contractor with experience in your area so that he has good relationships with tradespeople and suppliers. Someone commuting from Toronto may not have these relationships in place.
Don’t be afraid to politely ask a contractor where he lives. Chances are if he lives in Waterloo Region, most of his projects have been closer to home. Local is usually the better choice not just for services but for building supplies too.
Do you have a license?
I know it seems like a no-brainer but I have to state it anyhow: always hire a licensed contractor. Not ALL contractors require licenses for all jobs. You can find contractor license requirements in Ontario here.
Is your price an “estimate” or a “fixed price?”
There’s a big difference between an estimate and a price. If you think your contractor has given you a fixed price and you get a call that something now costs more or has to be changed, it could be an unpleasant surprise.
Keep in mind that changes in prices aren’t always a sign of a bad contractor. Some costs can legitimately rise due to market fluctuations or shortages in materials. Demand goes up and supply becomes diminished causing a spike in price. Then there are instances where the unforeseeable occurs – like a compromised structure. In these cases it’s only reasonable that your contractor may have to make adjustments, but he should also have ideas about how to stay within budget too.
There will be a certain amount of “unknowns” involved in any renovation. It’s impossible to know that the floor joists are compromised until you start removing materials. However, you can start to eliminate the unknowns if you have an open discussion with a quality contractor.
Who are your major suppliers and workers?
Talking to your contractor’s suppliers will give you a better idea of his reliability. If he isn’t paying them on time, you should look elsewhere. Suppliers will be able to tell you if a contractor buys top quality materials or if he skimps. If it’s a hefty renovation, take the time to talk to the tile shops, lumberyards and home improvement centers to get a feel for how he does business. If he’s left a long string of unhappy tradesmen behind, he might not be a good hire for you. Your contractor needs to have solid relationships with skilled workers to give your home the best results.
Are you insured? What does your policy cover?
The last thing you need after an expensive home reno is an insurance claim or lawsuit over an injury sustained on your property. The contractor should have current insurance for workers’ compensation and general liability. That way, if someone gets hurt or if your property is damaged, it won’t be you or your insurance company that has to pick up the bill.
Can I see a project in progress or speak with a recent reference?
A contractor should have references that you can call or a project that you can see to show the quality of his work. Satisfied customers are happy to show off their homes. If you are looking at photos on a website, make sure this is their actual work and not stock photos.
This is just the start of the many questions you should be asking your contractor. Talk to friends and coworkers who have been through the process and find out who they used and what they wish they had known. You can also ask your Real Estate Agent for advice and referrals.
Links to Helpful Renovation Information
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has a free “Renovators Green Guide” which you can find here.
Better Business Bureau (BBB) Accredited contractor listing: http://go.bbb.org/1QBP2NT At the bottom of this page the contractors are broken down into categories (e.g. Kitchen and Bath; Interlocking Stone; Concrete Contractors)
Engaging in DIY renos? The Bob Vila’s site is “chaulk” full of useful renovation information here.
From “how to de-stress wood” to “renovation mistakes to avoid” to “budget room makeovers,” Pinterest is a treasure chest of great renovation ideas and information.