Choosing the right contractor for your home improvement project isn’t something you should take lightly. Here’s a handy list of questions to ask contractors prior to making your decision and signing on the dotted line!
Lack of skill. Botched work, Ridiculously long delays. We’ve all heard horror stories about renovations gone seriously wrong… and that’s why choosing the right contractor is no joke. Make the most informed decision you can by doing your due diligence. It may seem like a lot of work, but hard work is rewarded. By asking prospective contractors the following questions, you could save thousands of dollars down the road.
1. Do you have a licence?
A licence demonstrates that a governing body has approved the contractor as qualified. By asking this question, you’re ensuring you’re covered at least at a minimum level. Should the contractor try to quit the job site or take off with your deposit money, the licence gives you the benefit of being insured up to a certain amount.
In Quebec, the law requires a contractor to have an RBQ licence. In Ontario, this isn’t the case – contractors aren’t necessarily required to have license. However, Toronto contractors (those based out of the city of Toronto & planning to work in the city) must carry a Metro Licence.
REMEMBER: Some less-than-honest contractors will show you a licence number that actually belongs to another contractor. Be vigilant and check. Having a licence number printed on a quote or business card does not make it legitimate.
2. Do you have contractor liability insurance?
Imagine having to deal with fire or water damage to your property… or your neighbour’s. What if a visitor to your home or a passerby is injured by scaffolding or by falling into a hidden opening. Anything can happen on a job site. Make sure you ask to see an insurance certificate and don’t hesitate to contact the insurance company to verify its validity.
Many homeowners mistakenly believe that they are protected as long as they have liability insurance – whether the contractor has it or not. In the home improvement realm, a lot of misinformation circulates and it’s sometimes difficult to determine what’s true and what’s false.
3. What are you good at and what negative comments might your clients have of you?
Some contractors will be very honest and tell you right off the bat that they, for example, do quality work but they’re not the cheapest, or that they do all the work themselves so they’re not the fastest. But, since most aren’t as forthcoming, it’s up to you to press them for answers – which you should verify by checking references and reading online customer reviews. In Ontario, complaints against a contractor can also be found with the Better Business Bureau.
4. How long have you been in business?
Repeatedly claiming bankruptcy and then opening up a new business under a different name the following day has become common practice in this industry. Maybe a contractor can be great with a hammer and saw, but not so great at managing their finances, with one potential outcome being that they’re out of money before they complete a project. This may seem extreme, but it happens way more than you think.
Check out the associated business registery (ServiceOntario for Ontario-based contractors or le Registraire des entreprises for Quebec-based contractors) to verify how long a contractor has been working. If they say they’ve been active for 20 years, but their current business has been registered for only one, you may want to start asking some questions. And if you don’t like what you hear, move on.
5. Who are your main suppliers?
Ask where the contractor gets their supplies and how long they’ve been working with the vendors. If the contractor has been sourcing from the same places for a long time, they’re probably paying their suppliers. That’s a good thing. You may find out some additional information by going to the suppliers and asking questions.
6. Have you ever been sued?
This is perfectly valid question to ask, and it would be in your best interests to verify their response by checking with the courthouse (it would be a matter of public record). You might find a blank file, or you may find a long list of lawsuits against them. You’d be surprised how often seemingly charming contractors have long histories of lawsuits.
7. Is it possible to see similar renovations you have completed?
The best way to judge the talent and skill of a contractor is to see their finished work. Some may have a portfolio of pictures of past projects to show you, and you’d be wise to check them out. You can ask for real-life references and testimonials — but make sure it’s not a family member or friend they’ve done work for. You want an unbiased opinion. When you speak to a former client, ask about things like punctuality, cleanliness, friendliness and conflicts.
Charette Project - Kitchen
8. How long will the work take?
For projects with various stages, it is important to establish a detailed work schedule.
This way you can keep on top of the job, monitor progress, talk to the contractor about any potential challenges and resolve any issues that can cause delays. If any significant delays are caused by the contractor, the terms of the work should be renegotiated.
Do you need quotes for your renovation project?
9. Under what circumstances could the price you quote me go up?
You should absolutely ask your contractor in advance if they foresee any circumstances that could increase the cost of the renovation, as it’s better to be aware of this from the start. Many untrustworthy contractors will hook you with a low price, then nail you with extra charges and threaten a lawsuit if you don’t pay up.
10. Who will be my point of contact?
Will the person you sign the contract with be your main contact throughout the job? If not, who will? It is best to have one main point of contact to avoid any potential miscommunications that could lead to mistakes.
11. Who is ultimately responsible for the work?
A general contractor may use subcontractors to complete the work. Sometimes, this isn’t a problem at all. Other times, it can be an issue, especially if you choose a contractor based on their particular skills and they hire a cheaper, less skilled substitute to do the job without informing you. Know who to talk to if you’re not happy.
12. Will there be a written contract?
A written contract is essential and should include a description of the work and materials, penalties for delays, costs, and more. The more specific it is, the better. Too many people sign contracts that are incomplete, or blindly offer up trust when presented with what seems to be a good deal. If a price seems too good to be true, it usually is. Double check what you’re agreeing to and get everything — we mean everything — in writing. If the contractor doesn’t put everything on the page, don’t sign it. “Complete bathroom renovation : $15,000” is not enough information to go by!
In the event that you’re forced to enforce the penalty clause, your relationship with your contractor may turn sour. That’s another reason to choose the right contractor from the start.
13. How will the job wrap up?
The contract should include the collection of construction debris at the end of any job. Sometimes contractors who are running behind on a project will do 90% of the work well, and then disappear to start working on another site before your job is completed. If there is a penalty involved and/or a set definition of what the “end of the job” should look like that both parties have agreed to, you’ll be more likely to see things wrap up quickly and painlessly.
Do you want to minimize risk and save time?
Reno-Assistance has already verified hundreds of contractors for you. We make sure to put you in touch with professionals who bear the 360° Verified Contractor seal, and we’ll send you a report with everything you need to know about them before your initial meeting.
I'm here to help you
- Jonathan / Renovation Advisor at Reno-Assistance
An advisor will be with you every step of the way, helping with everything from comparing the renovation proposals you receive, analysing the credentials of the prospects, and seeing you through to the completion of the project.
For other tips on finding the star you need to ace your project, we recommend you read: How to choose a contractor for your renovation project.