Hiring a Contractor

So you've got your architectural drawings and you're ready to "shop" for a Contractor...

This can be nerve-racking! Who hasn't watched HGTV reno shows and been scared silly by reno horror stories?

In reality, well my reality, most people I know have had relatively smooth renovation experiences. A few hick-ups here and there but that's pretty normal don't you think?

I thought I would share my experience of hiring a Contractor as well as some tips. Note: this is a long post. A chapter really :)

Folding Measure Ruler, Vintage Link

I had been collecting the names of potential contractors for awhile before we began this process. I spoke to many friends and had an idea of the type of contractor I wanted to hire.

Most of the problems I had heard people complain about regarding their contractor had to do with communication issues. For example, not showing up/calling when they say they will or disappearing for days on end with no explanation. In a weird way, it's kind of like dating isn't it? You are investing a lot of time and money into your project and you expect respect and clear communication.

So for us, communication was a key factor.

We interviewed three potential Contractors. People say you should always get at least three quotes for a job. Even if you know who you want to hire it's worth the time to go through this process. You will be able to compare quotes, timelines and feedback about your job.

Make sure you have not only your drawings ready but a clear idea of finishes (ie: hardwood vs. engineered wood flooring). This can make a big difference in getting an accurate quote.

Make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Ask for a detailed breakdown of what is included or a "scope of work" in the quote. In order for a Contractor to quote accurately they need a copy of the plans and information of finishes, fixtures etc.

When we were starting this process I had a lot of questions about what this part of the process entailed. Friends generously shared tips. Thank you friends! 

So for those of you who want to know here's what to expect.

1. Call to introduce yourself and your project. They will want to know what you are doing, your timeline and may ask about your budget. This is when you may set up an initial meeting or walk-through.

*Budgets: I recommend be very honest about your budget up front. That way you both know exactly what to expect. If you have a $150,000 budget and the job is really a $200,000 job you need to know that before you start!

2. Your initial meeting may just entail getting a feel for the Contractor and talking about how he/she works. You may also want to share your drawings/plans at this time. Sometimes you know right away that you want to invite the Contractor to submit a quote for the job. If you do, make sure you have a copy of the plans for them to take away so they can quote accurately. In our experience, a printed copy seemed preferred by the Contractors so they could go over it in detail rather than on a computer screen. It's a good idea to have a "deadline" for the Contractors to submit their quotes. That way you are able to go over all the quotes at about the same time.

Some questions to ask the Contractor... 

  • Do they work with a team of trades consistently or do the trades they use vary? In my opinion, hiring a Contractor that works with the same trades all the times is key. They know each other and what to expect. Communication and scheduling will be a lot smoother.
  • Who is responsible for getting permits?
  • What kind of down payment do they require and what is the payment plan?
  • What kind of work schedule should you expect?
  • If you are living in your house during the renovation you will want to make sure they do an adequate job of cleaning up the site on a daily basis.
  • Business Trade License Number
  • Public Liability, Property Damage & WSIB Insurance and coverage.
  • Whether they have worked in the area.

3. You may want to ask for References before you get to the point of inviting quotes. After all, past behaviour is an excellent indicator of the future.

Some questions to ask a Reference:

  • Did the project finish on time? If not, what were the delays?
  • Did the project finish on budget? This is important! You don't want to be hit with a big bill at the end of the job for "extras". There are the extras that you add and then there are the extras that are surprises. OK, you have to be prepared and have a contingency for unforeseen problems. But if the Contractor is experienced and honest he/she should have a very clear understanding of their costs. Some people will argue this is impossible but I know many people who have come in on budget. Just be clear about what you both expect.
  • How was the quality of the work? This is important for obvious reasons... but ask things like "Is there anything that you would recommend keeping an eye on during the process" What were stand out issues (if any)?
  • Did the Contractor communicate well with you? Did they show up on time? Work consistently. You want your renovation done on time or within a reasonable agreed upon time frame.

4. You will probably want to meet the Contractor again to discuss the quotation. This is the time to ask more detailed questions. You may want to negotiate the price and/or find out if there are ways to save money.

I'm happy to report that our experience of hiring and working with our Contractor has been smooth and enjoyable! 

Although all of the Contractors we considered were very experienced and had great references it came down to personality and a little bit of going with our gut instinct. We both felt comfortable with our Contractor right from the beginning. He was consistent in his communication with us from the initial meetings to these last weeks. We are happy to say we made the right choice.

What tips do you have for hiring and working with a Contractor? 
I'd love to hear about your experiences, tips and/or feedback in the Comments section below.


Some helpful links:

City of Toronto: Building Department
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation CMHC
Canadian House & Home Magazine: How to Hire a Contractor

*The opinions expressed in this post are based on the authors personal experience. Anyone contemplating a renovation or hiring a professional should consult the appropriate Professional Association or Licensing Department for up-to-date information.

1 comment

  1. Hi,

    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could e-mail me?



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