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How To Hire
A Renovation Company

the complete guide

There are some important things to look out for when hiring a renovation company.  Read our ultimate guide & save yourself some time and mistakes.

how-to-hire-a-renovation-contractor-the-complete-guide

3 Key Questions to Ask Your Potential Renovation Contractor

That Will Help You Decide Whether to Hire Them or Not

01

Do you have any referrals that I can talk to? Can I actually talk to any of the people who left you a Facebook or Google review?

02

What happens if you go over the quoted budget?

03

Can you show me documentation that proves that you have liability insurance, a business license, & WCB?

Do Your Homework

How long has the contractor been in business? What is their background and experience?

Find out how long:

  • They have been in business.
  • They have been in their current office.
  • It typically takes to get a hold of them.

Once you’ve gotten a hold of them, find out if they have:

  • Liability
  • Property insurance
  • Workers compensation
  • Ask for proof of insurance and check if it’s up to date and will cover the dates of your renovation.

Check their website for testimonials and ask them for references, also…

Ask about specific skill set:

  • What is their work background?
  • What is their experience in the specific area of renovation?

Ask the Contractor:

“Do you have enough time to finish my project?”

It helps to know this

  • Are they a little busy?
  • If not, why?

If they’re busy:

  • Do they have the time and resources to finish your renovation?
  • Is there adequate supervision?
  • Will they work from start to finish on your project?

Communication

Are you able to talk openly and honestly to the contractor? Do they have excellent communication skills?

Initial planning

  • Number of decisions
  • Details that might get missed
  • Possible misunderstandings
  • Methods of communication
  • Commitment to open-dialogue from both parties

You’re job as the client

  • Communication is a two-way street
  • Make yourself available to answer the contractor’s questions
  • Respond quickly to questions from the contractor
  • Make decisions in a timely manner

Topics

  • Material selections and decisions
  • Timing of decisions made
  • Pricing, initially and how changes of scope will be handled
  • Invoicing cycles and payment terms
  • Timelines and scheduling

If you don’t know, ask!

  • If you follow the first three points, this shouldn’t be a problem
  • Feel comfortable asking “dumb” questions
  • Don’t feel talked down to
  • Make sure the contractor is approachable

“What if I can’t get a hold of my contractor?”

This is a major red flag. If you can’t get a hold of your contractor during the project, it is a sign that they are either too busy, overwhelmed or unreliable.

Vetting your contractor and asking for references is a good way to avoid this. Ask in advance for their contact information and precisely when they’ll return your phone call or text (it should never be longer than one business day).

License and Credentials

Is the contractor properly licenced?

Licensing for trades

  • Obtain a list of specific trades that will be operating on the site
  • Trade-specific licenses, such as those for electricians, plumbers or HVAC technicians, require much more specific knowledge and experience than basic contractor licenses.
  • Typically this is the contractor’s responsibility, but if you ask for this and they refuse, you might have a problem.
  • Red Seal – Common standards to assess the skills of tradespeople across Canada. Not always a requirement, but useful to know.

Contractor business license

  • The lowest common denominator
  • Makes sure the contractor is licensed to run a business in your city
  • The lowest barrier to entry

“Does my contractor need a Red Seal?”

It is recommended for a plumber or electrician to have a Red Seal.

What’s important is that the sub-trades that are doing the work have the proper certification. All major trades have a Red Seal component that you can ask your contractor about.

Contractors and Sub-trades

Who is doing the actual work? Are they sufficient qualified?

What trades will be doing the actual work on the project?

  • Find out what work is being done by what trade.
  • It is the contractor’s job to vet and make sure their sub-trades are professional, reliable and properly trained.
  • However, it’s okay to ask about their background and get a better idea of who is going to be in your home working.

Who is doing the work and when?

  • This will affect communication and
  • When will they be on the property
  • Are they trustworthy

“Are the sub-trades qualified?”

The whole point of hiring a reputable contractor is they, in turn, will employ reputable, qualified sub-trades to do the work.

If you’re concerned about the sub-trades experience level—ask! A good contractor will be able to communicate to you their team’s background, experience, and skill level.

Insurance

Do they have general liability insurance? Are they registered with WorkSafe BC?

  • Protects you from liability in the event a worker is injured while working on your property. Check WorkSafe BC to see if they are covered.
  • Make sure your contractor has full liability coverage. You have the right to request all of this information.

“How do I know if my contractor is insured?”

Ask! A good contractor will be able to provide proof of insurance, no questions asked. Make sure you get this proof before you sign the contract and make sure the dates on the insurance align with the work scheduled at your home.

Building Code Requirements

Is the contractor familiar with the local building code? Does he know if and when permits are needed?

Specific codes

  • Familiar with your area and the specific codes related to homes in the area
  • This is important if they are new in town

Permit requirements

  • Familiar with your area and the local permits required.
  • This is especially important if they are new in town.

“Will the contractor need permits?”

Homeowners are required to go to the city to receive a permit before contacting a renovation contractor.

References

Will the contractor provide you with a list of past clients and jobs completed?

Multiple references

  • A credible contractor will have no problem providing this.

Make sure it aligns with the work you’re doing.

  • Contact the clients that match your renovation.
  • Ask for references for kitchen renovations if you’re getting a kitchen renovation.

Call at least 3

  • Ask for at least 3 and call all of them.
  • It will give you an idea of the credibility and trustworthiness of the contractor.

“Why should I ask for references?”

If you haven’t been referred to a contractor by a friend or relative, chances are you’ll need to ask for references. The main reason to ask for references is:

a) to find out if they’re legitimate and can actually do the work and,

b) to find out if they have excellent communication skills and you’ll be able to work together to complete the project.

Renovations can take up to 3 months to plan and execute, you’ll need to know if you can work with this person for a extended period of time without confusion or conflict getting in the way of a successful project.

Timelines, Deadlines and Schedules

Will the contractors provide you with a detailed schedule from beginning to end of the project?

Decent timeline

  • Ask them to be as specific as possible
  • Contingency if something goes wrong
  • Contact and supervision numbers of each trade

List of deadlines

  • Outline task and completion milestones
  • Get the big picture of the sequence of events
  • Helps ensure the project is going to plan
  • Plan your life outside the renovation around this list

Detailed daily schedule

  • Get a daily schedule while the project is underway
  • Time of workers arriving
  • Time of material drop off

“Why do I need a schedule?”

There are two reasons for a schedule: convenience and accountability. Since you may live in the house during the project, you’ll to know the work schedule so you can plan your life around workers arriving and materials being dropped off. A schedule also helps you keep track of the project and will help ensure progress is being made to your satisfaction.

Material Purchases

Who is purchasing materials for the project? You or the contractor?

Contractor discounts:

  • Most contractors get discounts on materials, find out if that savings is passed on to you.

Who is doing what?

  • You’re picking out the cabinets, but who is ordering it?
  • Is the division of labour fully defined before you start the work?

“Who makes the material purchases?”

This really depends. A contractor is going to have relationships with suppliers and will often get discounts not available to the general public.

You may want to have an active role in selecting and purchasing materials such as paint colour and appliances. Make sure you outline who is purchasing what while the contract is being written.

The Unexpected

Who is responsible for when/if something goes wrong?

  • Unexpected problems are common in renovations
  • Make sure there is a contingency plan
  • Who is responsible for what?

What happens if something goes wrong?

With home renovation projects (especially older homes) this is not a question of if, but rather when. Make sure the contractor has addressed this and ensure that they have a contingency plan in place if, for example, unexpected plumbing or electrical issues arise during the project. This is another example of the importance of communication. The contractor should be approachable and open communication should be available between the two of you.

Site Rules

Will you provide a list of rule for the contractor and his crew to follow while on the job site?

Site Clean Up

  • Make sure they clean up the site at the end of each day
  • Define “clean up” because some people have a different definition of this word.
  • Who is the site supervisor?
  • Make sure lunch garbage and cigarette butts are thrown away.

Job sites are dirty

  • Make sure you understand the work being done
  • It is dusty, mudding, wet, etc.
  • This will give you an idea of the level of cleanliness to expect

“Who is responsible for workplace safety?”

Ultimately, you’re responsible for making sure the contractor has taken the appropriate safety precautions throughout the project. A great contractor will address these up front—if they don’t—make sure you ask!

Address site safety in the contract and ensure that the contractor has liability insurance and WorkSafe BC should anything happen on your property.

Crew

What are your expectations for the crew? What is their arrival time and is there someone in charge of them?

Work crew expectations:

  • Is the crew clean, reliable and safe?
  • Will they arrive on time and not leave early?
  • Will I feel comfortable having them in my home while my children are there or I’m away at work?

Site Supervisor

  • If the contractor is not on-site at all times,
  • Is there a designated site supervisor or foreman
  • Do you have their contact information
  • Do they have the contractors confidence?

“Why are foremen important?”

General contractors will often have multiple jobs running at the same time. The on-site foreman is typically a trusted representative of the contractor and should be able to answer most of your questions with the full faith of his boss. The foreman should also be responsible for site safety and should remain on-site at all times. Contractors may have multiple foremen for each of their sub-trades.

Deposits

How much of a deposit is the contractor expecting?

  • You should never pay the entire amount up front.
  • This varies with each individual company.
  • The standard is a 25% deposit.
  • Also common with larger projects are payments made in instalments after certain milestones are completed.

“Why pay a deposit in the first place?”

The deposit is an act of good faith to the contractor and shows you’re serious about the project. You should be wary of contractors that ask for more than 25%, especially if it starts getting up into the 40%-50% range. This could signal they have a cash flow problem which means they’re business might not be healthy, and you may wish to steer clear.

Warranties

Does your contractor have one? What is their timeframe to fix deficiencies?

  • Just because the crew has left the jobsite, doesn’t always mean the job is finished.
  • Fixing deficiencies (nicks in the paint, scuffs on the walls from moving appliances, etc.) are a part of the renovation process.
  • Arrange with the contractor to have a checklist that you can sign-off on before the job is officially complete.
  • Allow for a realistic timeframe for the contractor to come and fix things you don’t feel are up to standard.
  • If you arrange this ahead of time it will reduce the chances of a dispute or “pressure to pay” from the contractor.

“How long should I expect a warranty to last?”

No warranty is a major red flag, it means the contractor has no faith in their work. A one year warranty is good, but a two year warranty is even better. A good warranty is a sign from the contractor that they believe in their service.

Contracts

Will they provide you with a proper detailed contract?

  • Having a written contract with your contractor is basic common sense.
  • It will protect you and the contract and act as a roadmap for the entire project.
  • A good contract should:
  • Identify the agreement made between you and the contractor and,
  • Outline a detailed plan for the project.
  • A reasonable contract should include:
  • Detailed description of the work,
  • Who is responsible for purchasing the materials,
  • A payment schedule (exactly how much you will be charged and when),
  • A warranty (what is covered by the contractor and for how long),
  • Liability insurance confirmation,
  • Their business license number

“Why do I need a contract?”

First of all, a contract helps prove that your contractor is legitimate. If a contractor is unwilling to offer a contract, it is a major red flag. It is literally in their job title!

Drafting a contract at the start of a project will help you determine the relationship during the project. Most contractor horror stories being with this major step getting skipped.

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