If you’re looking to do a home renovation, locating a potential contractor is just the first step to getting your renovation underway. You’ll want to thoroughly consider a few prospective contractors before deciding who to hire to minimize any avoidable issues in your renovation. This should include interviewing the contractor.
“But my neighbour used contractor [xyz] – if I use them, do I still need to interview them?” The answer is yes. Even if you get a positive referral from a friend or family member, you should still interview and check the references/reputation of any renovator before hiring them to ensure you did your due diligence in minimizing avoidable problems in your project.
In this blog post, we break down how to interview a contractor, what questions to ask, and how to use references from previous clients to help in your decision to hire a contractor.
Interview the Contractor
It is important that you are comfortable with your contractor, that you trust them in your home, and that you have confidence they will complete the project as promised. If you don’t feel that way, you probably shouldn’t hire them.
The best way to determine your comfort level is with a thorough interview. And, in addition to how well they’re able to do their job, you’ll should obtain and be comfortable with the following information:
- Their qualifications: How long they have been in business, how the company operates (e.g., using their own staff or subcontractors), and their experience with similar jobs.
- Their references: Obtain contact information for at least three of the contractor’s past customers with projects of similar complexity.
- Their suggestions: Ask what they think of your project, what ideas they can offer to improve it, or how they suggest optimizing your budget while improving value.
- Their estimate: Ask for an initial “ballpark” estimate of costs for your project and when it could be started and finished.
What questions to ask
Q: What is the history of your company?
Experience makes a difference. Find out how and when the contractor got into the business, and how long the company has been around. A longer history indicates stability and a strong viable business that won’t disappear on you. Ask about the contractor’s background and relevant education and training – you want to make sure the renovator has both the technical and the business skills required to run a solid company and provide quality services. Also ask about the size of the company; some have their own staff to do the construction work while many rely on subcontractors, which is very common but good information to know. Finally, ask them about their certifications and accreditations and if they’re a member of any local, provincial, or national associations. Most importantly, have they agreed to abide by the RenoMark code of conduct?
Q: What services do you offer?
Every contractor will provide a specific range of services. Some will include design services, while others will work with independent designers. You need to have a clear understanding of what services the contractor can provide for your project.
Q: Have you done renovations like ours before?
Some contractors specialize in specific types of projects, such as roof repairs or kitchen renovations. Others offer more general renovation services and can handle a wide range of projects. It is important to know that a contractor has experience with projects like yours – ask how many they’ve completed in the past year or two.
Kitchen renovation by RenoMark member My House Design Build – Surrey, BC
Q: Can we talk to some off your past clients?
Request a list of past customers you can contact for references. Professional contractors are proud of the work they do and will be happy to provide this information. If the answer is no, stop the interview – never hire anyone who is not willing to give you references.
Q: Can we visit one of your current projects?
Visiting a work site can tell you a lot about how the contractor operates. If the contractor has a current project, ask to visit and take note of details such as how well the site is organized and whether it is clean and tidy.
Q: Do you carry Workers’ Compensation and business liability insurance?
Hiring someone who is not properly insured could put you at considerable legal and financial risk. Professional contractors will provide you with proof of business liability insurance and Workers’ Compensation coverage.
Q: Will we get a written contract?
If the answer is no, stop the interview! Always get it in writing. The contract sets out the agreement between you and the renovator in detail: the description of the work, the specific materials to be used, the amount you will pay, and the responsibilities of both you and the renovator. If it’s not in writing, you have no proof that you and the renovator have agreed to the same thing. And while hopefully you’d never have a need for remediation, your contract is your legal recourse in the event of a dispute.
Q: What warranty do you offer on your work?
A professional contractor provides you with a written warranty that spells out what is covered and for how long. And they deliver prompt follow-up service if there are problems or defects in their work. When checking references, ask past customers about the contractor’s warranty service performance.
Q: How would you deal with our project?
Ask the renovator to explain how they would approach your project. Will design and drawings be required before they are able to give you a firm price? Will they assist you in choosing products? Will they look after any needed permits? How long will the work take? When can they start? What will the schedule be like? How much will the work disrupt your household? Will they clean up? How will you pay and when? There are no correct answers, but their response to your questions should give you peace of mind that you’re in good hands and allow you to compare your top choices.
At the same time, expect the renovator to try to find out as much as possible about you and the proposed project. Are they listening carefully? Taking notes? Asking the right questions? Offering ideas and suggestions? At the end of the discussion, do you feel confident that they understand what you want and can help you accomplish it?
Exterior renovation by RenoMark member Master Edge Homes – Markham, ON
The Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) offers an easy-to-use Contractor Interview Worksheet for you to print out to help you conduct these interviews. It includes many more useful questions for you to ask potential contractors.
Checking contractor references
Many people assume that if a contractor is willing to provide customer references, they must do good work. You should not assume this, and you can learn a lot about your contractor from past clients – even the satisfied ones.
Every professional contractor has strengths and weaknesses, and their past customers are in the best position to tell you what these are.
So, once you have customer references from a prospective contractor, use them. Find out if past projects were completed on time, on budget, and to the customers’ satisfaction. If there were any problems or delays, find out how the contractor handled and resolved these.
If a contractor is unable or unwilling to provide customer references, you should not consider hiring them.
It can feel a bit intimidating to phone a homeowner you don’t know to ask about their renovation project. To help you in this process, CHBA provides a Customer Reference Worksheet. This will assist you in asking important questions in a consistent way.
Overall, you should research and thoroughly interview any prospective contractor before deciding to hire them for your renovation project. This will help you feel confident in the work completed during your renovation and give you piece of mind that if any issues were to arise, your contractor would be well-equipped to deal with them.
Learn more about how to “check out” a contractor at getitinwriting.ca.
Ready to start looking for renovators? Find a trusted contractor in your area through RenoMark’s professional directory.