Word of mouth is one of the more common ways that people go by when looking for a contractor. If they have neighbors or friends who had their houses renovated recently and were happy with the contractor’s work, they tend to hire the same contractor to do the renovation job.
Sometimes, however, word of mouth isn’t enough. There are certain criteria to bear in mind when looking for a contractor.
Looking for a Contractor: Basic Guidelines
- Think of the renovation job you want done. Is it the kitchen, bathroom, plumbing system, flooring, the addition of a bedroom or converting the basement into an apartment for rent? You can always go with a general contractor – a jack of all trades – but it might be worthwhile for you to go with a contractor that has several years’ experience and is a specialist in that particular type of job. You can prepare a list of three general contractors and three specialists to start with.
- Meet the contractors in person. It is important for you to feel 100% comfortable with the contractor and the only way to do that is to meet with them and discuss the job in detail. Are they courteous, open to ideas, show interest in doing the job?
- Never discuss the job with contractors over the phone or by-email and certainly do not negotiate over the phone.
- Once you’ve chosen the contractor you like, request to see his certification or license as a contractor. He has to be licensed by the state or province he works in. You wouldn’t want to engage the services of a non-licensed contractor particularly if part of the work is electrical in nature.
- Request for job estimates in writing. Ask the contractor to show you a breakdown of materials and labor. He should also provide a job description with time frames. Many homeowners decry the fact that the contractors they’ve signed deals with don’t complete the work on the agreed deadline.
- Ask the contractor’s permission for you to contact some of the people he has worked for. If he has nothing to hide, he will readily agree to it and even encourage you to contact them. If he refuses, treat this as a red flag. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches by looking for someone else.
- For security reasons, ask him how many men he will assign to do your renovation and what their names are before the job starts. This way, you know the identities of the people who will be going in and out of your house.
- If you think of something else when the job is half done and want to add another fixture or re-do an additional part of the house, do not make any verbal agreements. Whatever additional work you want must be in writing. This way there are no surprises when the final bill comes.
- As for payment terms, it is common practice for contractors to request a 50% downpayment. In some cases where the renovation is a major one that will take several weeks, you can also arrange for scheduled payments. For example, if it’s a kitchen renovation, you can agree that you make the first payment after all cabinets and drawers have been installed, the second payment when the floor has been completed and the third payment when the counter tops are finished.
- Again in terms of payment: never make the final payment if the job is not completed or if you’re not happy with the finished product.
- A good and reliable contractor is one who maintains close supervision over the work and returns your phone calls promptly. If he doesn’t return your calls or drops by to check how the work is progressing, then you may want to cancel the contract. Remember that you want to feel 100% comfortable with the contractor you choose at all times.
Looking for a Contractor Through a Network/Bidding Center
While we prefer to hire a contractor who is highly recommended by friends and relatives, there are instances where finding a contractor will have to be done by other means, like contacting a network, job board or bidding site, calling a homebuilders association or asking your city government or local chamber of commerce for recommendations. There are people who relocate to a new city not knowing anyone and have an urgent renovation job for the house they just bought. When there are no friends or family around who can recommend a good contractor, they have to fend for themselves and cross their fingers that the experience of looking for a contractor does not turn out to be a nightmare.
In bidding sites, posting your project is usually free, although you may need to register as a user with a password.
Bidding sites usually have renovation categories set up on their web site so all you have to do is click on the type of renovation work you’re interested in. You will then get the chance to view the profiles of contractors who do that kind of renovation. The site will also facilitate communication between you and the provider by referring your job to qualified service providers in your area. The service provider will contact you and bid on your project. You do not have to respond to all contractors who contact you.
Bidding sites will also list the qualifications and licences of the provider but it is up to you to verify the information. This way you’re sure that the information posted on the web site is true and accurate. Some bidding sites also set up a rating and reviews system allowing you, the homeowner, to read testimonials from others. When your renovation is completed and you are satisfied with the work, you can help others choose a contractor by rating your contractor and giving him a positive review.
If the need should arise that the contract has to be cancelled, most bidding sites will leave this matter between you and the contractor. You must however pay for work that was already done and for the materials already purchased.
If you decide to find a contractor through a bidding or network site, don’t do so with a false sense of security. You need to do due diligence by double-checking the information and making sure that the licences and certifications are valid. And once you’ve selected a contractor, arrange to meet in person and follow the basic guidelines above.