Looking to Hire a Contractor? 5 things to ask before you sign a contract.

Embarking on home renovations can be a daunting task, and to most homeowners, hiring a contractor to do the work can be equally intimidating. If you’ve started the process, you may have noticed there are literally thousands of contractors out there all of whom want your business – some are good, and some you need to avoid. Trying to pick the right one will involve many factors such as price range, quality of work, personality of contractor, etc. Once you find a contractor you like, here are 5 things you should ask before you sign the dotted line to get work started.

1.  ARE YOU INSURED?

All legitimate contractors should have insurance. Contractors should carry enough liability insurance to cover the cost of anything that could go wrong on a project (injury, property damage, property loss, etc.) Without insurance, you as the home owner could be on the hook for anything that goes wrong, which could turn into a financial nightmare.  In addition to liability insurance, WCB coverage is also a must have, especially if the contractor will be sub-contracting any of the work in your home.  Anyone working in your home should have insurance.  If your prospective contractor tells you otherwise it should be a huge red flag. A good contractor who pays to do things the right way will be more than happy to provide proof of doing so.

2. ARE YOU LICENSED TO DO BUSINESS WHERE I LIVE?

It is illegal to operate a business without a business license. If a contractor does not have a business license, they are not a legitimate business. Aside from simply being illegal, a “business” that operates without being licensed within your municipality is most-likely not insured.  They would also be unable to pull any of the proper permits to legally do any work on your home. If you live outside of a major municipality and hire a contractor from the city to work on your home, the onus is on the contractor to secure the business license to operate where you live. Many contractors carry with them a copy of their business license, and at the very least would be able to provide proof of their business license before any contract is signed. If you have concerns about whether a business is licensed in Edmonton you can call 311 to look them up.

3. WHAT PERMITS WILL BE REQUIRED?

Permits are important. Your house can literally be torn down if the proper permits are not pulled:

Homebuilder pleads with council to avoid tearing down half-finished bungalow built without a permit

There are guidelines that stipulate when a permit is required, and they are usually laid out by the municipality/inspection department. Not all work requires a permit, however. For example: If you hire a contractor to REPLACE a light fixture in dining room for instance, that does not require a permit. If you never had a light fixture there to begin with and the electrician had to run new wiring to your home to INSTALL it – a permit is required. If your job involves removing walls, engineers may also be required to determine if they are load-bearing and what steps are required to properly support the structure if they are to be removed. You don’t need to be an expert about permits and codes, but bringing the matter up to the contractor you want to deal with will show them that you’ve done your homework and expect the work to be done properly.

4. WHAT IS THE TIMELINE FOR THIS JOB?

If you have renovated before, you probably know now that it is not that fun living in home that looks like a construction site. You want to get your home and day to day life back to normal as quickly as possible. A good contractor should be able to give you an appropriate rough timeline for your project and be willing to give you status updates of how your project is coming along. If you are having your basement turned into a legal basement suite, every month that goes by is a month of lost potential rent money. If your contractor seems non-committal with deadlines, its up to you if that is acceptable or not. Although we like to believe that “time is money”, keep in mind that if a particular contractor has a time estimate that is significantly shorter than any other, they may be cutting corners.

5. WHAT ARE YOU PUTTING IN MY HOME AND WHAT IS THE WARRANTY?

Contractors usually always bid jobs with “builder grade” material – it’s just usually the least expensive option to make their price look more attractive at first glance. If cost is a big factor in your renovation or project, this material is perfectly acceptable to meet code, but if you have a few extra dollars to invest, talk to the contractor about upgrading to a better product. The things behind the walls like better insulation, mold resistant material and Energy Star products are not only going to make your home more comfortable and energy efficient, but will stand the test of time much better than inferior products. If contractors are warrantying their workmanship, they would be much more inclined to do so with better products.  Talk with your contractor to try to strike a balance between cost and quality that fits your budget.