Finding a good contractor is important when you add a room, renovate a basement or carry out repairs. A home improvement project gone wrong will cost you. Good advertising isn’t proof a contractor does quality work. Check with friends, neighbours, or colleagues who’ve had improvement work done, and check out a contractor’s reputation on online ratings sites you trust. Get written estimates from several firms and keep in mind the lowest bidder may not be the best choice.
How to find a contractor:
Depending on how big or complex a project is, you might hire a:
- general contractor to manage all aspects of your project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, obtaining building permits, and scheduling inspections
- specialty contractor, who installs particular products like cabinets and bathroom fixtures
- architect, who designs homes, additions, and major renovations — especially ones involving structural changes
- designer or design/build contractor, who provides all services
Do Your Research:
- Check with friends, neighbours, or co-workers who’ve used a contractor
- If you can, take a look at the work done and ask about their experience.
- Look at sites you trust that post ratings and reviews
- Do people seem to have similar experiences, good or bad. Read the reviews.
- Find out how long they’ve been in business
- Look for an established company whose record and reputation you can check out.
- Check for qualifications and memberships of professional bodies
Before hiring a contractor:
Once you’ve narrowed your options, get written estimates from several companies. Don’t automatically choose the lowest quote. Ask for an explanation to see if there’s a reason for the difference in price and check all the quotes have the same schedule of works outlined.
Ask Many Questions
- How many projects similar to this one have they completed in the last year?
- Ask for a list and pictures so you can see how familiar the contractor is with your type of project.
Check if your project requires permits
Councils require permits for building projects. A competent contractor will obtain all the necessary permits before starting work on your project. You may want to choose a contractor familiar with the permitting process in your county, city, or town.
Have a list of references
A contractor should be able to give you names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least three clients with projects like yours. Ask each client how long ago the project was and whether it was completed on time. Was the client satisfied? Were there any unexpected costs? Did workers show up on time and clean up after finishing the job? You also could tell the contractor that you’d like to visit jobs in progress.
Contractors should have:
- public liability insurance
Ask for copies of insurance certificates, and make sure they’re current, or you could be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project.
Understand Your Payment Options
- Never pay cash
- Try to limit your down payment
- Try to make payments during the project contingent upon completion of defined amounts of work. This way, if the work isn’t going according to schedule, the payments to your contractor will also be delayed.
Draw Up a Written Contract
Before you sign a contract, make sure it includes:
- the contractor’s name, address, phone
- an estimated start and completion date
- the payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers
- the contractor’s obligation to get all necessary permits
- how change orders are handled. A change order is a written authorisation to the contractor to make a change or addition to the work described in the original contract, and could affect the project’s cost and schedule.
- a detailed list of all materials including each product’s colour, model, size, and brand. If some materials will be chosen later, the contract should say who’s responsible for choosing each item and how much money is budgeted for it (this is also known as the “allowance”).
- information about warranties covering materials and workmanship, with names and addresses of who is honouring them — the contractor, distributor, or manufacturer. The length of the warranty period and any limitations also should be spelled out.
- what the contractor will and won’t do. For example, is site clean-up and trash hauling included in the price? Ask for a “broom clause” that makes the contractor responsible for all clean-up work, including spills and stains.
- any promises made during conversations or calls. If they don’t remember, you may be out of luck — or charged extra.
- a written statement of your right to cancel the contract within three business days