Considering a home reno? Ask these 9 questions when hiring a contractor

Whether you want to create your dream home or increase your house’s value for sale, you need to find a contractor you can trust. Here’s what to ask when hiring a contractor.

When it comes to renovating your home, there are many decisions to make. What colours, flooring, or cabinets do you want? Will there be a theme? Which handles and knobs will you use? On top of aesthetics, what’s your goal with the renovations? Whether you want more space, an updating design, or want to increase your home’s value, define your goals to get head-start when it’s time to interview and hire a contractor.

We spoke to a Toronto-based contractor with 20+ years of experience to find out how to find a trustworthy contractor, and what to ask them.

How to find a contractor you can trust

Personal, first-hand referrals are the easiest way to build your list of potential contractors. Have any family members, friends, or co-workers renovated their home recently? If you don’t know anybody who’s renovated their home recently, turn to everybody’s biggest network: Facebook. You probably know at least a handful of people there who’ve updated their home and are willing to share their experience.

What to ask when interviewing contractors

Have your list of candidates? Great. Here’s everything you should ask them to find the right person to hire and turn your renovation goals into your dream home.

Ask for more referrals and to see their work

Sure, you trust the opinions of those close to you, but it never hurts to hear from more people or to see a wider variety of the contractor’s work. This will help build trust, as well as show you different styles of work they’ve done.

Do they hire sub-contractors?

This is a big one. If you love their work, but they hire sub-contractors, you’ll want to make sure they work with those same sub-contractors consistently. It doesn’t mean they can’t do a great job and accomplish everything you wanted, just that the people renovating your home might not be the same ones who did the work that you fell in love with.

How many jobs do they manage at once?

It might not be realistic to expect the lead contractor or manager to be at your house from start to finish every day, but it’s helpful to know if you’ll get their undivided attention or if they’re balancing a dozen other clients at once.

When are they available to start?

Good contractors will be booked up several months in advance, so if you’re considering updating the kitchen, getting new flooring, or changing your home's floorplan next summer, you should start discussing options this fall or winter. The sooner you start, the more options you’ll have to decide between.

How long do they think the work will take?

Nice and simple. Get an idea of how long your house will be a construction site to understand how long your life will be disrupted before your dream home is ready.

Do they work with designers or architects?

It’s easy to assume a contractor does it all – and some might! – but the difference between contractors, designers, and architects is vast. Here’s a quick breakdown of what each role is:

  • Architects determine what’s required structurally if you want to knock down any walls, or develop plans if you want to build an extension. They keep your house safe.
  • Designers help with the finishing touches and everything that make your eyes light up when you first walk into a house or a room. They make your house a home.
  • Contractors bring the architects plans to life, do the demolition and construction, and of course, build out your designer’s vision. They make it all happen.

How do they structure payments?

Like it or not, money is always going to be a factor. Each contractor will require a different percentage of the total upfront to buy supplies and set aside the initial payments for their employees. For bigger jobs (like a full floor overhaul or complete renovation), the contractor should have a trust account set up to manage the costs for your project. If this is the case, you’ll need to keep the account funded to keep work ongoing.

What insurance do they have?

Like any type of insurance, you hope to never need it. But, contractors will need Builder’s Risk Insurance, which covers any damage that happens during construction. You should also confirm that your home insurance policy is valid during renovations.

Do they know of any zoning laws in the area that you need to consider?

The great thing about working with local experts is that they’ve been through the process in previous jobs. There are going to be zoning laws and restrictions you’ll need permits for before contractors can get to work.

Know that they’re interviewing you, too

While you’re asking them questions to see if you want to work with them, they’re also determining if you’re a client they want to work with. Good contractors are in demand, and they want to make sure they’re booking jobs with good clients.

Renovating is a big undertaking, and finding a contractor you can trust makes all the difference. Do your homework ahead of time and ask the right questions when hiring a contractor to make it a smooth experience.