Finding a Renovator
Contractors to Avoid
Where can you find a reliable professional contractor? At CHBA we think your best bet is to hire a member of our Association. Renovators and trade contractors are a large and important part of our membership, and joining the Association is a solid indication that a company is well established and serious about its long-term success.
In many communities across Canada, local Home Builders’ Associations have also adopted the RenoMark, which requires members to agree to, and abide by, a renovation-specific Code of Conduct. Visit RenoMark.ca to find out more, and to locate one of our RenoMark member companies in your community.
Other approaches to finding good contractors include asking for recommendations from friends, family, coworkers and neighbours who have had positive renovation experiences.
Be sure to ask them if the contractor lived up to their expectations and delivered what was agreed to. If they had any issues with the contractor, find out how these were resolved and, most importantly, ask if they would hire the same contractor again.
As noted in the previous section, depending on what work you need done, contract installation from a building material retailer can also offer you an easy one-stop way to get simpler home improvements done.
Stay away from “cash deals” and anyone who offers one
A "cash” deal is one where a contractor offers a low price in exchange for cash payment and no written contract or receipts.
You may assume that it is the contractor taking all the risks in an under-the-table deal, as they are the ones not declaring the income or paying their taxes. In reality, a cash deal means a lot more risk for you, less control over how your project turns out, and no guarantees of any sort — and that’s no deal at all.
If a contractor asks for, or agrees to, a lower price if they are paid in cash they have admitted they are lying to government and committing fraud. Is this the type of person you want working in your home? How can you ever know if they are lying to you as well?
Even if it’s only a small job, make certain that you and your family are protected. Always insist on a written contract covering all aspects of the project and proof of the proper business practices outlined on this website
Want to know more about what can go wrong with a “cash” deal? Here’s a short list:
Incomplete or Poor-Quality Work
What happens if you make an advance payment and the work is done incorrectly or not at all? Or if the person you hired never completes the work? Without a written contract or receipt for the cash payment you made, you are out of luck.
Without a contract, it’s your word against theirs. In the vast majority of such cases, the homeowners lose their money and have to live with the frustration of paying another contractor to complete the work properly.
Your only option may be to take the contractor to court. In this case, not having a written contract is a real problem. The judge will have to decide who is telling the truth, and the final result may not be to your liking.
Accidents or Injuries in Your Home
Contractors who operate their business properly have comprehensive business insurance to cover their liability in the event that they damage a customer's home. If the contractor is working underground for cash, they likely don't do this, and you would have to rely on their willingness and ability to pay for and damage costs. And, depending on your coverage, your own homeowners insurance policy may or may not cover you.
Most contractors are required by law to have Workers' Compensation coverage to protect workers who get injured. In some provinces, self-employed individuals can "opt out," but they should then obtain private disability insurance coverage to protect against work-related injury. If you hire someone for cash, who is not enrolled in Workers' Compensation, you may be treated as an employer, and could potentially be held responsible for medical and rehabilitation costs if that worker is injured on your property.
A home renovation represents a significant investment – and you deserve to have a proper warranty on the work done. Reputable contractors provide a warranty, as part of their written contract. Fly-by-night contractors who only work for cash don’t – even if they say they’ll come back to fix things. If something goes wrong after the work is completed, can you really count on someone who lies to government and cheats on taxes to honour their promises to you? Be safe – always Get it in Writing!
How to check-out a contractor
Locating a potential contractor is just the first step. You need to fully ‘check out’ prospective contractors thoroughly before deciding who to hire.
Even when you get a positive referral from a friend or neighbour, you should still check the references and reputation of any contractor before hiring them.
Interview the Contractor
It is important that you are comfortable with your contractor, that you trust them in your home, and that you have confidence they will complete the project as promised. If you don’t feel that way, you probably shouldn’t hire them.
The best way to determine your comfort level is with a thorough an interview. In addition to whether they are able to do the job, you need to obtain the following information:
- Their qualifications: How long they have been in business, how the company operates (e.g. using their own staff or subcontractors), and their experience with similar jobs.
- Their references: Obtain contact information for at least three of the contractor's past customers with projects of similar complexity.
- Their suggestions: Ask what they think of your project, what ideas they can offer to improve it or get more value for the money.
- Their estimate: Ask for an initial "ballpark" estimate of costs for your project and when it could be started and finished.
We’ve provided an easy-to-use Contractor Interview Worksheet for you to print out to help you conduct these interviews. It includes many useful questions for you to ask contractors.
What questions to ask
At the same time, expect the renovator to try to find out as much as possible about you and the proposed project. Are they listening carefully? Taking notes? Asking the right questions? Offering ideas and suggestions? At the end of the discussion, do you feel confident that they understand what you want and can help you accomplish it?
We’ve provided an easy-to-use Contractor Interview Worksheet to help you conduct these interviews. It covers the key questions you need to ask contractors.
Checking contractor references
Many people assume that if a contractor is willing to provide customer references, they must do good work. You should not assume this and, in any case, you can learn a lot about your contractor from past clients — even the satisfied ones.
Every professional contractor has strengths and weaknesses, and their past customers are in the best position to tell you what these are.
So once you have customer references from a prospective contractor, use these. You need to know if past project were completed on time, on budget, and to the customers’ satisfaction. If there were any problems or delays, you need to know how the contractor handled and resolved these. Only past customers can tell you.
If a contractor is unable or unwilling to provide customer references, you should not consider hiring them.
It can feel a bit intimidating to phone a homeowner you don’t know to ask about their renovation project. To help you in this process, use the Customer Reference Worksheet download. This will assist you in asking important question in a consistent way.
Deciding who to hire
Once you have interviewed renovators, checked their references and received written price quotes from those you are interested in hiring, it's time to decide who will be doing your job.
Renovators should be allowed adequate time to prepare a bid for your project, and as mentioned previously, you must ensure that each renovator is working with the same plans and specifications. For all but the simplest projects, you should expect the renovator to present their bid in person, so that they can discuss each aspect with you and answer any question you may have.
Once you have met with the renovators who are bidding on your job, you should review each set of bid documents carefully before deciding who to hire.
Compare every aspect of their bids – the description of the work, specifications (materials and products), price and allowances, deposit and payment milestones, project schedule and any additional recommendations or ideas for your project.
If, during your discussions with prospective contractors, any have suggested to you they can provide you with a better price if you pay them cash and skip the paperwork, you should eliminate them from further consideration – they have essentially told you they cheat on their taxes and lie to the government. You shouldn’t expect they will treat you any better.
Review the information you collected during and after your initial round of renovator interviews – your initial impressions of each renovator, and what their previous customers had to say about them.
Decide the importance of each aspect of your evaluation. While overall price is important, it is only one factor. Many homeowners who have successfully completed major home renovations speak about the importance of peace of mind – working with a renovator they trusted and felt confident in.
If you have a particularly strong sense of confidence in one of the renovators, they are probably your best choice, even if their price is not the lowest. In the end, you should choose the renovator based on your sense of the overall value they can provide to you.
In the end it comes down to trust and confidence – trust that you have chosen the right contractor for the job, and confidence that you will get what you want.
Find a Professional
Where can you find a reliable professional contractor? Hire a member of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. Renovators and trade contractors that join the Association demonstrate that they are well-established and serious about its long-term success.
In many communities across Canada, many of our local Home Builders’ Associations also use the Association’s RenoMark brand to help distinguish their members in the marketplace, making is easier for homeowners to find our professional renovators. Visit RenoMark.ca to find out more. RenoMark member companies in your community can be found here or at RenoMark.ca.