Hiring a Contractor

How to Get What You Want — and What You Pay For

No matter how large or small your renovation is, make sure to get a detailed written contract. Without the proper planning, renovating your home can be a stressful, time-consuming and expensive experience. But sooner or later, almost all homeowners need to hire a contractor to carry out a renovation or repair. So how can you find and select the right contractor, to ensure your dream renovation goes as smoothly as possible?

To help you choose, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has a number of tips for hiring a contractor to help make sure you get what you want — and what you pay for — including:

Ask for referrals from family, friends and neighbours who've had similar work done. You can also get names from local home builders’ and renovators’ associations, building supply stores, municipal building departments and the Internet.

Discuss your project with a few potential contractors to get their suggestions on how they would do the work. Depending on your project’s scope and complexity, you may get a rough estimate of costs, but the first meeting is usually more to get to know the contractor and their work. So unless you have been able to check out the contractor ahead of time, you shouldn't sign or pay anything at this stage.

Ask as many questions as you can, such as: How long have they been in business? What work are they or their subcontractors licensed to do? What work do they specialize in? Have they done similar jobs before? Will they use their own crews or subcontractors? What schedule will they follow? Do they offer a warranty, and what does it cover? Do they carry workers' compensation and liability insurance? Will they provide a written contract?

Get at least three references from each contractor, then phone or — if they'll let you — visit them to see the finished job, and ask if they were satisfied with the renovator, the tradespeople and the quality of their work.

Many homeowners prefer to get a number of estimates before making a decision, while others strongly prefer one contractor, and ask only the one to submit a formal estimate. Whatever your preference, make sure you get adequate information to make the right choice. As a general rule, with the proper drawings and specifications, three estimates combined with your discussions with the contractor and reference checks will usually provide enough information for you to make a decision.

Finally, no matter how large or small your renovation is, make sure to get a detailed written contract. While the offer of a "good deal" for work paid in cash may be tempting, without a written contract, you could lose your deposit, end up with poor quality work, find yourself charged far more than you expected or worse. Once you have the contract, don't sign it until you have read it carefully. Be sure you understand what it says and are satisfied that it describes exactly what you want — and includes everything you have been promised.

For more information or a free copy of the "About Your House" fact sheets Hiring a Contractor and Sample Renovation Contract, or other fact sheets on virtually every facet of owning, maintaining or renovating your home, visit our Web site at www.cmhc.ca or call CMHC at 1-800-668-2642. CMHC is Canada’s national housing agency and a source of objective, reliable housing expertise.