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How to hire the right contractor for your home renovations

Feb. 2, 2022
3 mins
A woman holds blueprints open to show a man during a home renovation

Dreaming of an updated kitchen? Or maybe you’ve finally saved up enough for that new ensuite bathroom. Renovations done right can add thousands of dollars to the value of your home and make it more livable and tailored to your needs. But we’ve all heard horror stories of when things go wrong — everything from shoddy, not-to-code work, to months-long delays and over-budget fiascos. Hiring a home renovation contractor can certainly be daunting, but it doesn't have to be.

Here are some of the most important tips to keep in mind to protect your investment and help you find the right contractor for the job.

  • Have a plan. Before you begin, have a specific idea of what you want done, and an estimate of your budget and timeline. Always set aside a bit more money than you think you will need. Be as detailed as possible so there are no miscommunications, but also be open to suggestions.
  • Gather a list of potential candidates. Internet reviews can be very helpful. But try to also ask for recommendations and referrals in your community. These can be from family and friends, as well as local home builder associations, building supply stores and your municipal building department. Ask for and check references. Also scan for potential negative reviews on websites, including the Better Business Bureau.
  • Meet in person and ask lots of questions. Once you have a short list of potential contractors, make sure you know what to ask during a face-to-face interview. In particular, you should find out things like how long they have been in business, what their specialties are, if they use subcontractors, how payments and deposits work, and what kind of warranties they provide.
  • Make sure they are fully licensed and insured. An unlicensed contractor increases the risk of things not being done according to code. Plus, your home insurance company may insist you use licensed contractors in order to be covered. Ensure your contractor has public liability insurance, property damage insurance, and workers compensation insurance (especially if they employ workers or subcontractors). You can even ask for the policy number and call to confirm it’s still valid. Also, confirm the contractor plans to obtain all the necessary permits to satisfy all legal requirements.
  • Get things in writing. These include written proposals, detailed cost estimates and expected timelines, a written and signed contract (which should include specific and explicit details such as removal of construction debris when the job is finished), and warranties on all contractor-supplied work and materials (in addition to manufacturer’s warranties) for a period of at least one year.
  • Watch out for red flags. Beware of any contractor who refuses to provide or sign a written contract or offers a discount if you pay cash, as this could pose many risks. For example, contractors who insist on cash may be unlicensed and uninsured. A cash deal may also leave you with no legal recourse if something goes wrong.
  • Have the right home insurance before you start. Your existing homeowner's policy and liability insurance might already cover renovations (provided your contractor is also insured). But it’s important to check with your agent or broker — you might need an extension of coverage to include the work you have planned for your house. Liability insurance should cover your family, as well as any workers on site. It should also extend to public property that might be nearby, as well as your neighbours' houses.

Getting these few steps right and finding the best contractor for the job may take a little longer at the beginning, but it will be time well spent in the end.

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Gail Balfour

Gail Balfour is a writer, editor, and senior content designer with more than 20 years’ experience covering areas of business, finance, technology and healthcare. A former editor of ComputerWorld Canada, she has also contributed to many other publications and corporate websites including Backbone, PwC Canada, RBC Canada, Women's College Hospital, Canadian Healthcare Technology and The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

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