A hiring checklist for your contractor search.
Perhaps one of the more difficult things anyone looking to renovate their home faces is the process of finding a person to do the work.
Having managed my fair share of renovations over the last decade, even I can find it difficult to match a good contractor to a client and particularly to a client’s budget. Simple gut instinct plays a large part in hiring the right person, but there are two words that can help solidify what your heart and gut are telling you: due diligence.
I would suggest that the vast majority of people find their contractors by word of mouth. While you may trust the person whose recommendation you’ve received, the contractor your friend raved about might not be a fit for you. Be sure to check references beyond the initial referral, but be strategic in your queries and avoid subjective questions like, “Were you satisfied with his work?”
To increase the confidence with which you make your selection, consider using this checklist when meeting with potential contractors and while checking references:
Contractor interview questions:
√ Does the contractor do the work himself or does he manage a crew that completes the project? The answers to this question can affect both budget and project completion timelines.
√ Does the contractor have adequate liability and disability insurance?
√ Does your contractor have WSIB coverage for himself and his workers?
√ Will the contractor manage all day-to-day operations or will you be expected to be home to answer questions and/or meet with trades?
√ Will the contractor provide all trades or can you supply some of your own?
√ Will your contractor provide you with regular updates on how the work is proceeding?
√ Will all verbal agreements be confirmed in writing? If not, you might want to assume this element of the work yourself.
√ What is your contractors experience with projects similar to yours? Does he have photos of his work he can share with you?
√ Who will supply the materials and where will they be stored on site?
√ Will the contractor obtain all permits required for the job?
√ Will a written estimate and a basic work schedule be supplied?
Note: Request a written progress payment schedule. I have a very reliable contractor whose motto on collecting payments is “Never too far ahead, never too far behind.” Work completed needs to be paid for. Too much money up front should raise an eyebrow. Still not sure? Email me for a sample of a reasonable progress payment schedule.
√ Is the contractor a member of your local Chamber of Commerce? While this shouldn't be a deal-breaker, it does give you another opportunity to discuss his reputation with an established organization.
Note: The contractor may supply you with names of suppliers he or she regularly does business with. Don’t hesitate to call them and find out how long the contractor has been dealing with them.
Reference check questions:
√ Was the contractor prompt?
√ Did the contractor return calls in a reasonable amount of time?
√ Was the contractor a clean worker? Did he respect your home?
√ Was the contractor a loud worker or was he barely noticeable?
√ Did the contractor complete the job on time and on budget?
√ Were there project additions or changes? How were they managed?
√ Were all project deficiencies resolved in a timely manner?
As you begin the process of hiring, it’s critical that you’re comfortable with the contractor’s approach and that he or she works in a way that reinforces the trust relationship that will develop between you over time. From a project management perspective, it’s important that you receive as many communications and details in writing as possible.
Ultimately, you as the homeowner are responsible for the work completed in your home. Insist on worker safety and request that building codes be met.
No one expects you to know the difference between work done correctly and that done incorrectly, so consider involving an experienced third party (an experienced designer or architect) to help develop a project scope and to keep an eye on quality and workmanship. Be sure to utilize other resources at your disposal, namely permits and inspections.
These combined strategies will help you protect yourself and your investment to the best of your ability.