What I Wish I’d Known Before Hiring a Contractor
On the hunt for a contractor to handle your home renovation or repair job? These helpful hints could save you time, money, and a lot of headaches.
Not all contractors are created equal
If your handyperson says they can “do it all,” watch out; electrical, plumbing and structural fixes require a licensed professional. A sure sign that contractors can be trusted is if they tell you they’re not the best person to do a particular job and recommend someone else instead.
Research is key
Good contractors get work through word of mouth, so they don’t really need to advertise. When you’re looking to hire someone, says Steve Maxwell, a widely published home improvement coach, ask friends and family for recommendations. If the job is large, consider several options, ask for at least three references and speak to previous clients before you sign any contracts.
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Check the right websites
Schedule an annual checkup
Ask a contractor to inspect your house once a year. Do you need to caulk around your windows and doors? Are any shingles loose? It’s a lot less expensive to hire someone to address those things than it is to replace them after years of neglect.
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Fees may vary
Contractors may charge different prices for the same job. Some ask for more when they’re busy. They may also raise their fees for houses that are filthy, so keep yours clean.
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Be ready to pay (a little) upfront
Many jobs will require about a 10 per cent deposit—this books a contractor’s time and is a sign of the homeowner’s good faith. But they might require more, says Steve Payne, the editor of Canadian Contractor. If you’re having a new kitchen built, for example, your contractor will want to cover the cost of custom cabinets and counters, neither of which will be reusable if the project doesn’t go forward.
Don’t be too hasty to ditch broken items
Before you throw something out, ask whether your contractor can repair it. They might be able to fix window frames, furniture and crown moulding—even tree houses and sheds.
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Nothing in life is free
While many workers will be happy to adjust your sticky door or tighten that leaky faucet, don’t act surprised when they charge you. Contractors make a big part of their living from those “while you’re here” jobs.
Let the professionals do their job
You could pay for the material yourself to cut costs, but don’t ask if there’s any way you can help out in exchange for a lower price. Payne says that the contractor could be held liable if you get injured.
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Always include extra cash in your budget—just in case
Always include some wiggle room in your budget. “If you’ve got a contract for $127,000 and you can really only afford $127,000, you’re nuts,” says Payne. No matter how good a contractor is, they don’t have X-ray vision—they might find mould, structural issues, plumbing or electrical problems that need to be addressed during your home renovation.
Make sure you get a contract
While it may be tempting to hire cash contractors—a handyperson whom you pay under the table, without a contract, avoiding taxes and getting a cheaper rate—Payne warns against it. “If the job goes south, there’s no paper trail,” he says. “You’re totally unprotected.”
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You can pay in installments
Establish payment stages in your contract. Possible milestones can include framing, plumbing and wiring, drywall and finishes, and you can give your contractor a certain percentage when they reach those milestones. “It’s an incentive to keep things rolling,” says Maxwell.
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Stick to the plan
Make firm decisions, Payne advises. Changing details like finishes or tiles can prolong jobs and result in money down the drain.
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