What You Need To Know Before Hiring A Contractor
Finding a reliable contractor for your project can be difficult. There are many contractors out there, but not all of them are honest or have experience with the type of work you need done.
When it comes to choosing a company for your project, there are many factors you'll need to consider. Do you want someone who is licensed and insured? What about their pricing or how long they've been in business?
In this post, we'll explore the most important things you should look for when picking a contractor for your next home improvement project.
Before you hire a contractor, you'll want to know if they are licensed and insured. If your project involves cutting into the roof or exterior of your home or working on the plumbing or electrical systems, it is incredibly important that they are solvent and in good standing with the authorities.
If the worst should happen and someone gets injured during your project, you don't want to be held liable for those injuries. That's why it's so important that any company you choose has both insurance and licensing. It's also the reason you should always get a detailed invoice for the work that was done and avoid "off the books" cash payments (more about that here).
The licensing ensures compliance with the laws. The insurance covers any property damage. Having employees on payroll and contributing to workers comp ensures that you can't be responsible for anything that goes wrong.
With all that out of the way, lets dive into this list!
1 - How To Find a Contractor: what kind of contractor do I need?
There are different contractors for different projects. Some specialize in one area, but be careful to make sure they do projects similar to yours. For example, if you want to redo your kitchen, don't hire a contractor who only does back yard patios.
If you're looking to change a toilet or sink, you can call a plumber directly. If you're looking to get a bigger project taken care of, like a bathroom, kitchen, tiling or flooring, you're better off with a general contractor. They will likely be able to handle most of the work in-house, and will know who to hire for specialized tasks.
Arguably, the best referrals are word of mouth recommendations from trusted sources. This isn't always available when hiring someone for a big project or if you don't have friends or family with home improvement experience to advise you.
Be wary of lead generation services, as they typically do very little to verify a contractor's credentials. The overwhelming majority of these services charge contractors for your lead. Their incentive is to sell as many leads as possible, even if the project never comes to fruition. That said, there are certain referral services that go above and beyond, checking not just licenses but also financial solvency and references.
2 - Things You Should Check Before Hiring A Contractor: how do I know if they're legit?
Ensure that their licenses and insurance are accurate and up to date. Check this with the appropriate authority in your city or state (i.e., building officials. In Montreal, Quebec, it's the RBQ that manages licensed contractors).
Ask for referrals. Referrals can be tricky. Think about it: if you're very happy with the work your contractor does, would you be okay with having his future clients call you to check his referral? Most people aren't interested in this prospect. But having testimonials on Google, Facebook, or even a letter of recommendation can be a good indication that they're forward thinking and above board.
Look them up. Are they on Instagram? Linkedin? Do they have a website? Most master tradespeople will have a strong online presence. This is usually a good indicator to the level of quality and pride in their work. There is a huge online community in the trades, and only the best can show off their hard work.
3 - The Benefits of Working With a Reputable Contractor: why can't we just hire the guy who works cash?
There are several benefits to working with a reputable and established contractor, actually:
Experience and quality of workmanship
Liability Insurance, Provincial Licensing, License Security/Bond
Employees paid living wages and covered by workers comp
It's in the contractor's interest to perform well in order to get more referrals and great reviews from you and others--and they want repeat business.
While you might "know a guy" who does this type of work on the side, after their day job... I believe going with a licensed professional with experience. You wouldn't want a "guy you know" perform medical procedures on you.
When it comes to the structure of your home that keeps your roof up when there's 40 cm of snow and high winds, the plumbing and waterproofing that protect your structure from water damage and the wiring that keeps you from getting electrocuted? Why would you trust such important tasks to an amateur, or even worse... a wannabe?
4 - What Types of Projects do Contractors Typically Work On: my gardener says he can change my electrical panel
"What type of projects do you usually work on?" This is an important question to ask your contractor because it will help you narrow down your search, and also because you should know who you're inviting into your home. If the purpose of your job is to build a deck in your back yard or repave an old driveway, then the contractor that specializes in dormers and roofing probably isn't going to be able to help you.
There are three main sectors in construction: residential, commercial, industrial.
If you need commercial or industrial structure built for your business, you're looking at a large firm (the type that will show up with a crane and dump trucks).
If you're looking to remodel your front entrance and living room, you're looking at a residential renovation contractor (the type that will show up in a pickup or Sprinter van with their power tools in rolling tool boxes).
A contractor who can remodel your bedroom can assuredly do the same for your living room. This doesn't necessarily mean they will be proficient at a bathroom renovation. A bathroom is regarded as one of the most complex rooms in the home that you would use. It's only rival is the mechanical room, but let's be real... not too many people hang out in that room!
The bathroom has nearly all trades involved in it. Carpentry for the walls, plumbing, electrical, ventilation for the exhaust fan (which usually exits through the roof or the brick / siding), drywall, plastering, painting, tile setting, cabinetry and counters (your vanity), finish carpentry for your door and mouldings, and the most important of all: waterproofing!
It's an exceptionally busy room with so much potential for future water damage and mould if not done properly. That's why it's important to pick someone who is familiar with the type of project you're planning.
5 - Why You Should Always Get Three Bids: more data is more clarity
There are a few reasons to get 3 bids (or at least more than one bid).
-To get an idea of where the market is in terms of pricing. This can change drastically from season to season for some contractors like roofers, and changes year to year with the cost of things like lumber and labour shortages.
-To ensure that you're getting a fair bid (extraneous costs, lack of adequate planning, etc.). For example, there are few things more annoying than signing a contract with a contractor expecting to pay $1,000 for an 8 hour job only to have the contractor demand another $2,000 for "unexpected" cost.
-To understand what you're paying for. When it comes to hiring contractors you get what you pay for. Hiring someone at any hourly rate they choose without imposing time limits will get you amazing results...if you can afford it.
Hiring someone and asking them to cut their cost in half, if they choose to do the job, is a recipe for disaster. When dealing with your home, renovation isn't an expense, it's an investment. It can increase your property value when done right.
Don't just look for the lowest or average price. Look for what is included, what quality level the products are, how long the project will take, and what is excluded. It's easy to come in with a lower bid if you're not including major parts of the renovation in your estimate, or if every surprise will cost you extra.
6 - How To Choose The Right Contractor For The Job: the interview
Some people don't think about meeting contractors as an interview, but I can assure you it is. This also works both ways. The contractor wants to make sure that the project is viable for the budget, that the site is accessible, etc. You want to make sure the contractor knows their stuff and can complete the project to your standards in a way that will stand the test of time.
The key to interviewing a contractor is that you need to come out of the interview with more information than when you went in. It's like speed dating, you need to find someone who has your same vision for this project and whose personality is such that they're easy to work with. The last thing you want is an ego-driven contractor who thinks he or she knows it all, but doesn't know what questions to ask YOU, the homeowner!
For example, here are some questions I would ask:
1 - Do you work on projects like this often? This will help you get a good sense of what they're used to doing.
2 - What are the typical steps involved in this type of project? You're looking for a direct answer. Someone who does this for a living will know the steps, in order, like the back of their hand.
3 - What products do you use for waterproofing? This is a great question to ask if you're doing a bathroom. The primary reason to redo a bathroom is old age. The second most common? Water damage. If the waterproofing isn't top notch, you're potentially looking at a very expensive mishap. Take note of the products they mention and look them up after the meeting.
4 - Who will be performing the work? You're trying to find out if they are a tradesperson themselves or just a salesperson. Do they have employees or are they sub-contracting everything out? Plumbing and electrical are subcontracted mandatorily, as those types of work can only be completed by licensed plumbers and electricians. Sometimes, certain parts of the project, like plaster or tile setting will also be subcontracted. But you want someone who will be involved with the project and close to the core of it. You don't want an armchair contractor who wouldn't know the difference between plywood and OSB.
7 - Tips for Managing Expectations: are you going to leave it like that?
Are you looking for a basic bathroom on a budget? Or are you less concerned with price and more concerned with the plaster walls being as smooth as glass? A good contractor could deliver both options, but one will cost more than the other.
Typically, your project costs boil down to two major factors: time and material. Higher quality finished require more time, and more material. This equates to an increase in budget.
A true professional should be able to deliver either in an acceptable manner, but we can agree that there is a difference between the paint job on a Ferrari and a Honda. The paint job on the Honda looks brilliant on the lot, but as you drive it, wash it, brush the snow off and live with the car, the paint just doesn't hold up as well as the Ferrari.
I'd love to have a Ferrari paint job. But I'm a working man, and I understand and accept the fact that my budget it much better suited to my Honda.
Here are a few tips to help manage your expectations while still receiving a quality product.
• Get things in writing. Make sure the contractor is clear about what you want and your expectations regarding time, cost and quality of work. Be prepared to provide a detailed description and list of materials for each task (tiles, faucet, paint colors, etc)
• Schedule weekly progress meetings to discuss any concerns and/or identify any potential problems before they become issues. The more information you share with your contractor up front will help create a smoother project.
• Look at their history – Ask yourself these questions: Have you seen this person's work? Do they have experience working on homes like yours (size, age, features)? Have they worked with other clients that resemble you? Were those clients happy? You can check references or ask friends or family if they've used the same contractor in the past.
8 - How To Communicate With Your Contractor And Avoid Unnecessary Stress or Problems: did you see my text?
It's important to establish clear lines of communication between you and your contractor. An expert contractor will likely have some type of system for keeping all these communications in one place. Tracking emails, phone calls, text messages, WhatsApp threads and notes you leave on site isn't just inefficient and frustrating. It's inviting misunderstandings and headaches.
That's why we use our own project management application, powered by Buildertrend. It keep everything related to the project in one easy to use app that you can access from your phone or laptop.
From the estimate, to plans, change orders, daily logs, pictures -- all in one click.
Not every company uses an application like ours, which is fine, as long as you follow these tips.
- A good contractor will give you time frames for all phases of your project, so that there are no surprises.
- They'll also let you know exactly what their plan is, and how it will affect your day-to-day life during construction, so that you're not stuck wondering, "What should I do?" or "Is everything okay?" or "Can I use my sink?"
Don't be afraid to ask questions. A good contractor wants to make sure he understands every detail of your job before starting work on it, so if you have a specific desire or requirement for your project, let the contractor know right away so that you're working together instead of against each other.
Be precise. When giving instructions or explaining what you want done, be as specific as possible about how you want it done and when you want it completed. Spell out details like paint color, materials used, etc., if necessary -- anything that might not occur to a contractor who isn't familiar with your home. For example: "I'd like two coats of red paint on my front door." If there are particular times when you need silence (work-from-home life, amirite?), let the contractor know well in advance.
Be honest. It may be tempting to paint a rosy picture of what your expectations are in order to get the dream bathroom you want built, but if you open with "I'm really not picky" and at the end of the job you're using the Hubble telescope to spot imperfections, you're not helping anyone. Be up front about all project details; don't try tricking your contractor into doing extra work for free or hiding crucial details like asbestos in the insulation or major defects that you're aware of.
Get everything in writing. Especially when it comes to financial arrangements like down payments, fixed costs, change orders and progress updates. There's nothing wrong with having some trust between friends, but if the contractor is not being up front about how you are billed or where your money is going, then they are might just be spending your budget irresponsibly, or worse, swindling you. An expert contractor will likely have you sign a contract and return it to them, which protects both sides. They agree to do the work as planned, and you agree to pay as planned. A recipe for success!
In the end, it's up to you. It doesn't matter how many contractors are out there - only a few will be right for your project and budget at any given time. There is no magic number of companies that have been vetted or verified as being "good." You can always ask friends or family if they've had good experiences with a contractor before hiring them yourself.
I'm here anytime! Send me an email on my contact page and we'll chat about what type of work you need done, where you're located, etc., so I know best who to recommend based on those factors alone. Don't forget to tell me your nightmare story below in the comments section too!
Montreal Contractors is a qualified company, holding an active bonded license as a General Contractor and Specialized Contractor with the Régie du Bâtiment du Québec (RBQ License: 5767-5480-01), ASP Health & Safety Certification and a $2M liability policy. Our employees have all passed background checks, are registered with CNESST and have their ASP Health and Safety certification.