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How to choose a renovation contractor

Some time ago, I was told that renovation contractors are second only to auto service businesses in the number of complaints received against them by Consumer and Corporate Affairs. Leslie King of the Better Business Bureau here in Ottawa Carleton said that renovations were their fifth largest group of complaints in 1997. Most reputable contractors, as well as many homeowners, have seen or heard of many renovation projects that have gone amok. So it is safe to say that choosing the right contractor for you and your project is of vital importance. Still, many consumers do not understand how to find the good contractors, even though they may understand that contractors can be good or bad.

The first step in finding a good contractor begins by asking around. I would suggest talking with friends, neighbors, work associates, etc. about their experiences with renovation contractors. Word of mouth advertising is a good contractor’s best friend. The only group that is more vocal than happy consumers are those who have had a bad experience. Although a newer firm can provide excellent results, you should bear in mind that a short track record is a disadvantage for you. A sad reality is that the vast majority of fledgling renovation businesses fail within one to five years. If your contractor goes out of business, it will be hard for you to have service workdone, or to find any legal recourse should a major problem develop.

Secondly, it is advisable to look for a contractor who frequently does the type of work and size of project you have in mind. For example, if you are planning a $7000 bathroom renovation, a contractor who usually builds $60,000 additions may not be your best bet. It also follows that the bathroom contractor may not be a good choice for a large addition either.

When you meet your potential contractor for the first time, watch for signals that may give you indications of how it will be to work with this person. Is he on time? Does he treat you and your home with respect? Does he seem genuine and knowledgeable or just “full of it?” It would be a good idea to ask about his liability insurance, his Workman’s Compensation coverage, and to find out who will be responsible for obtaining the necessary permits. I will discuss the importance of compliance with municipalities and other authorities in a later article.

Finally, if your contractor suggests a “cash” discount, my advice would be to get rid of him/her as soon as possible. If your contractor has no difficulty committing income tax fraud, he will likely use those same poor ethics in his dealings with you. Cash deals may mean the lowest price, but in the end could cost you many times over what a professional contractor would have charged. “Cash” also means no contract, no protection in the courts, potential for lawsuits against you from injured workers, the possibility of supplier and sub-trade liens against your home, and incomplete, shoddy work.

The Canadian Home Builders Association has just putout a pamphlet entitled “Get It in Writing!” This excellent folder is part of a consumer awareness program the CHBA has developed in order to help consumers avoid the potential pitfalls of renovating their home. The Ottawa-Carleton Homebuilders Association (723-2926) will provide a “renovation kit” which provides a lot of information at a low cost. It could well prove to be the best renovation investment you could make.