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06/06 - Renovation

How Do I Find the Right Contractor?

5 Do's and Don'ts of HIring a Contractor for Your Home Renovation |

Hiring a Contractor: How to Choose the Right Person for the Job

We have all been in the situation where we’re looking to hire the right person for a specific job. But where should you start? When hiring a contractor, the selection process can be tricky, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the candidates’ work. And unfortunately, we hear stories about a job gone wrong more so than right, from not hiring the right person. In terms of builders and renovators of homes, when hiring a contractor or General Contractor (GC), there are a number of definite do’s and don’ts. This is the same case for choosing a project manager – a role that may be necessary based on the size and scope of your ambitions. Because, you want to be the person with a story of ‘winning’ when it comes to property changes. You do not however, want to be the person at the dinner party with the horror-story money-pit-lawsuit-never-saw-him-again-reno! While this list is certainly not exhaustive, as a licensed carpenter and former GC myself, here are my top five do’s and don’ts for when you hire your next contractor.  


The Do’s of Hiring a Contractor – Do:

1. Meet with multiple contractors (at least three).

If you’re planning a home renovation, you probably have a rough idea of what price point you’ll be working with – or at least what you’d like the price to be. It’s best to get at last three quotes. This will give you the ‘Goldilocks’ effect: the small, medium and large or lowest, middle and most expensive contractors as a rough estimate of costs. If in the first round of estimates all three prices are similar, you can probably bet further requests will come in around the same range. Mind you, if one of the quotes is super low or sky-high, you may want to ask yourself why. On the lower end, is the contractor desperate for the work or just starting out? And, on the higher end, are they super busy, over-confident perfectionists, just that good, or testing your desperation or inexperience? It’s important to get a sense of the range of pricing available.  


2. Take recommendations from friends and family.

Word-of-mouth and referrals are a great way to meet great people (AHEM: just like real estate). Try using your family or social media friends to ask for reliable contacts. There are many people out there who love to share their story when they find a contractor that does excellent work. Think about it this way, why approach total strangers when you can get an introduction to someone new from those you already trust?  


3. Check out the contractor’s work and ask for references.

It’s not out-of-line to ask what a contractor is currently working on and if you can stop by to see their work. If the applicant shies away from this, it may be a sign. If they are not currently working on any projects, that’s another sign. It could also give you the chance to meet the person they are working for to get an opinion on how it’s going. While on-site, see how many workers there are and how safe, clean, and organized the site seems, as well as the quality of the work being done.  


4. Get a professional quote/estimate from each contractor with a pricing breakdown.

Ask for a breakdown of pricing to understand if and why certain areas of the project come in too high. Also, you’ll want to know your contractor has taken the time to think about your project and is not employing the ‘throwing darts’ pricing strategy. For example, take a look at these three quotes:

  1. $30,000 all in
  2. $24,860 total: $4,000 electrical, $6,000 plumbing, $5,000 carpentry, $5,000 drywall and taping, $2000 disposal, $2860 taxes
  3. $23,000 plus taxes

Doesn’t #2 help you to better know about the budget and where your money will be going? It should also be said here, in defence of contractors, that the quote is often a ‘group rate’ (meaning it’s this price if you do it all). So, you cannot expect to be able to cherry pick the jobs you do want done for the same prices they are quoted at as part of the whole package/quote.  


5. Trust your instinct – you have it for a reason.

You will have to work out problems with the contractor for a length of time. And, you will have to negotiate with them. They will become a part of your life for days, weeks, or months. Ask them about past clients and bad experiences and notice how they talk about past clients. Notice, in their stories, are they always the victim? And how have they resolved conflicts in the past? Apart from pricing, is this someone you can and want to deal with? I’m not saying they have to be your BFF, but do you get the sense that this person is going to make this easier and less stressful for you, or even more difficult and dramatic than it needs to be? Price isn’t everything.  


The Don’ts of Hiring a Contractor – Do Not:

1. Choose the lowest price because it is the lowest price.

Inexperience. Desperation. A trick to get through the door and then start employing ‘scope-creep’. Poor quality. Do I need to continue? Don’t let your frugality be your guide, you really do get what you pay for.  


2. Hire a relative because they are a family member.

This is business. Choose a family member if it’s the best person for the job. However, oftentimes, it’s best to hire someone you do not have a personal relationship with already. This way, the relationship does not get in the way of the tough conversations that sometimes have to happen with business.  


3. Choose the one you like the most because you like them the most.

There is a subtle difference between who is best for the project and who you like best. While getting estimates, the one who made you laugh, flirted with you or charmed you: go to dinner or a movie with them. You made a new buddy and hey, that’s super. But this is business. The one who is the most professional should get the job, so it’s done on budget and on time. The most professional applicant may be the best company as well, but keep your eye on the target: who is best for the task at hand?  


4. Take the first quote and cancel the others without consideration.

Do not be hasty when hiring a contractor. If you’re ready to turn down others because a contractor seemed reasonable and you’re feeling a bit impatient, this isn’t enough to say you’ve chosen the right person for the job. Take the time to do your due diligence.


5. Confuse a handyman (see also: handyperson) with a contractor.

Contractors typically don’t do smallish repairs. They build additions, brand new houses and buildings, tear down walls, replace kitchens and bathrooms, and manage other trades. If you need a few plaster repairs, a handrail installed, or gate fixed, a few pictures put up…you don’t need a contractor, you need a handyman. A good guideline is, if you expect you’ll be spending $1000 or less to pay one person to be on the project and have it done in a day or two, it’s not really a contractor type job. Describe your job over the phone to your candidates to find out if they are interested and in their wheelhouse before wasting anyone’s time, including your own. See also: don’t hire your handyman to build your addition. 😉  


Hiring a Contractor 101: Trust

I trust that some of the above information will help you to find the right person for your own future projects. As I said, this isn’t every rule that should be made about hiring contractors, but I hope it gives you enough of a framework to start the process with confidence. The first thing that you and the appropriate candidate should build is trust.


This article is written by Fox Marin Sales Representative, Ian Busher. With an extensive background in carpentry and contracting, Ian is our resident “Renovations Expert”! He takes pride in his ability to assess the quality and condition of a house. This, in tandem with his talent for speaking to the feasibility and cost of potential renovations, and his eye for the aesthetic details of a property, makes him a powerful partner for anyone looking to buy a home in the Toronto real estate market.