How to Choose a Contractor

April 9, 2013

Home Renovation ContractorIf you’re contemplating a home renovation project you are about to experience a process that can result in your dream turning into a perfect reality or a nightmare from which there seems to be no way to awaken. You are about to choose a contractor.

Selecting a contractor is unlike choosing any other service provider and can have far more personal consequences if done incorrectly. Unlike your mechanic or accountant or even your dry cleaner, you do not go to the contractor’s place of business, he or she comes to your home. In essence you are inviting a stranger into your house who, as part of the job, may rip up a room or expose your home to the elements.

Like any industry the home improvement business has individuals and companies that provide superior service, adequate service and less than stellar service. The trick is to sort them out before you hire. It’s really not that scary a task if you’ll just invest the time to follow a few pieces of advice.

Where to start

Probably the best way to build a list of contractors is to ask for referrals from family and trusted friends. You know they are going to give you their honest, candid opinions of the contractors they’ve used and you may actually be able to see the work that was done. If you’re short on friends with recent remodeling experience, start searching on reputable directories like

When selecting a directory make certain it offers more than just a list of contractor ads by locality. You want to see features like verified reviews, the ability to post a job and have contractors bid on it, remodeling tips or even a forum where you can get answers to questions about your project. In other words you want a directory that can be used as a tool, not just a restated Yellow Pages.

Evaluating contractors

Checking contractor credentials takes time and effort but is an essential element in the evaluation process. Unfortunately, most consumers limit their questions to:

  • When can you start?
  • How long will it take?
  • How much will it cost?

Granted those questions are important but before you entrust a contractor with your building budget you may want to know a tad bit more about his or her qualifications. At a minimum you should ask about:

  • Professional license. Requirements for a professional license will vary province to province but most will require a Certification of Qualification particularly in the plumbing and electrical trades. Check with your provincial government to determine what licensing applies in your home town.
  • Business license. All cities and towns require a business license. Ask for a copy of the license from your prospective contractor then check with the agency that issued it to see if it is valid and if any complaints have been filed against it.
  • Insurance. Ask for a copy of the contractor’s certificate of insurance. Call the agency who issued the certificate to ensure that the coverage is in force and that it includes workman’s compensation. You also want to make certain that the insurance will cover the actions of any subcontractors working on the job.
  • References. Ask your contractor for a list of clients who had projects similar to yours completed in the past six months. These are likely to be ringers (best customers the contractor has) but it pays to give them a call and have a chat. What was the contractor like to work with? Was he on time every day? How easy was it to ask and get answers to questions? Did he clean up the work site each evening? Getting a firsthand response to these questions will give you a good idea what the contractor is like to work with. Lastly check with your local Better Business Bureau to see how they rate the contractor and if there are any unresolved disputes.
  • Training and certification. A contractor who invests in continuing education for his staff is most likely one that places quality and reputation at the top of his business plan. Ask if the contractor has professional certifications or certifications from manufacturers.

While this quick list is not all inclusive it’s a great start in evaluating a contractor. However, there is one more very important check and that’s what your gut says. Trust your instincts. If after going through the vetting process you still feel a bit unsure about a contractor, it’s best to keep looking. If you’re not absolutely confident in your choice you’ll be sweating bullets during the entire project. It’s just not worth it.

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