Sadly, contractors have earned a bad rap over the years. It seems like just about everybody has a horror story about a plumber who only made a leaking faucet worse, or a handyman who insisted on a hefty cash deposit and then mysteriously disappeared before any actual work was done. The list goes on.
These stories are enormously frustrating for the great contractors and tradespeople out there because, like everything else, for every bad apple there are a dozen good ones. As a client, it’s important to do your research when you’re in the market for upgrading/renovating your home so you can trust that the person you hire will do excellent work while remaining in budget and on schedule. Below are some tips to help you make the right choice.
Ask for Referrals & Read Reviews- In our modern world, social media rules and communication is at your fingertips, so there are countless resources available to get referrals from other people in your community. Community boards/groups on Facebook, emails between friends and colleagues, and online forums are great starting points. In addition to these online hiveminds, remember that word of mouth is invaluable. If you know your neighbours have just built a deck and you’re looking to do the same, ask them about who they used and what their experience was like.
Also, never underestimate the power of online reviews! Yes, it’s true that sometimes reviews can be skewed, but generally speaking, majority rules. If the contractor you’re researching has an average of 4 stars or higher, and the testimonials to back their rating up, you can feel confident trusting that s/he is a solid contender for your business.
Get it in Writing- Once you have your shortlist, always ask for quotes that include projected timelines from each of your prospective contractors. Most contractors will quote for free because they understand that clients are spoiled for choice and they want the opportunity to bid for your business. If a contractor is reluctant to offer a quote, or if the quote is generic and does not provide any indication of when the job will start or finish, these are major red flags. A good quote will provide you with an itemised list of materials/labour, a quality timeline for the job, payment details (ie. how much is due when), and will even account for snags like delivery delays and what the contingency plans are to recover from setbacks. If your contractor’s quote seems to be missing this information, discuss it with him/her. If s/he is unable to provide you with reasonable justification for the omissions or altogether refuses to answer your questions, run!
Ask for Insurance and Credentials- One of the most obvious warning signs is a contractor who does not have proper liability insurance and/or credentials. Not all contractors require specific licenses or certifications depending on where you live, but they should all have adequate insurance. Trades like plumbers and electricians do require relevant credentials, and if they cannot be provided to clients upon request, this is problematic and you should look elsewhere.
Further, ensure that whoever you hire is up to speed on any building permits required to complete your job. In some cases, the client is required to obtain the permits (or at least get them started), but in many cases the contractor takes full responsibility for any paperwork that needs to be filed. Do your research ahead of time and make sure the channels of communication are open and clear so you don’t find yourself at the mercy of a bylaw officer shutting your work down.
For the most part, contractors are honest, forthright, and hardworking. They want to do the best job they can for you, and they want you to be happy. Unfortunately, there are people out there who are ill-equipped to deliver on what they promise, and it’s ultimately the client who suffers. Choosing your contractor takes time and is about more than the bottom line, so approach the task with patience and remember to sing their praises after a job well done!