Decorating & Design

December 17, 2009

How To Hire A Contractor

Why Bother?

A general contractor is like the quarterback of a reno team: someone who plans and executes all the steps required for home improvements. The contractor’s connections to tradespeople means you won’t have to find a drywaller, then wait for him to show — the contractor organizes every step.

Where To Look

Neighbours and friends: Get names from people you trust. Keep in mind, however, that a renovator who specializes in bathrooms may not be ideal if you’re digging out a basement.
Pros, stores and associations: Call the homebuilders’ association, designers, architects, trades or a trusted building centre. Or, look in the source guide of design magazines.

What To Look For

A valid membership: A renovator who has joined a builders’ association must adhere to standards of education and conduct.
Comprehensive insurance: Make sure the contractor is insured in case of an accident, and is bonded in case of damage to your house. Notify your insurance company to make sure you’re covered in the event of injury or damage.
A complete contract: A good one spells out the payment schedule and the materials that will be used (for more information, visit

Questions To Ask

Ask the contractor: How many renos has he/she completed that are like the one you’re doing? What are his warranties? Will he get the required permits (inspections mean your work will meet building code requirements)? Get references: good contractors will have 10 to 20. Then, check them ( lists questions to ask).
Ask yourself: Was the contractor prompt and presentable (if not, will he accept shoddy work from trades)? Did he show a portfolio? Was he easy to talk to? Fit is crucial: you’ll be collaborating with this person for weeks or months.

What You’ll Pay

Cost-plus: You pay for labour and materials plus the contractor’s markup of about 22 per cent. Expect to pay more for work requiring licensed trades (such as a plumber or electrician) versus general labourers.
Fixed fee: Contractor’s quote incorporates allowances for labour and specific materials. You’ll pay extra only if you ask for more work or upgrades.
Withhold a portion: Agree to a modest down payment and then work out a schedule for the rest. Homeowners are entitled to hold back 10 per cent of the cost for 45 days after completion, in case the contractor fails to pay suppliers.

Thanks to Bob Rasmus, president of RJR Construction in Vancouver, and Cynthia Malagerio, manager of communications for Greater Toronto’s Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD).

See also How To Find A Designer and How To Find An Architect.

Author: Trish Snyder

Donna Griffith