How to Choose Your Home Renovation Contractor
A major home renovation can be a stressful endeavour, and often the most stressful part happens before the project begins. How do you select a renovation contractor?
Let’s be real, a big reno project is going to cost a lot of money and you want it done right. You have a vision of a beautiful, warm and comfortable space to fit your personalized needs and wants. Who can you trust? Who is going to deliver a quality finished product that will last for many years to come, and who do you want in your home for months during the process?
This article will help guide you along the process of how to choose a renovation contractor.
Step 1 – Research
The most obvious place to look for a home renovation contractor is online, looking for websites and social media accounts.
When searching online, you want to look at the overall presence of a company. Consider that if a home renovation company doesn’t have a website, they may be a very small operation or they may not be very well established yet. Websites are expensive to build, maintain and market, so if they don’t have one, it should factor into your consideration. If a company only uses Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok (not to take away from the importance of a social media presence) to showcase their work, you may want to take this into consideration during your research too.
While going through a company’s website, pay close attention to how recently it has been updated. Are there recent photos and videos? What are their areas of expertise? Do they specialize in something?
Look also for social media accounts linked on their websites. These are a great place to gather information. You can often find behind the scenes photos, videos and stories posted there to showcase small build details, procedures, and the personality of the team.
During your research, consider asking the General Contractor for names of a few sub-trades so you can evaluate their experience working with the contractor. Did you know that Alberta recently introduced legislation defining payment regulations? The General Contractor now has 7 days to pay the sub-trade once the homeowner has paid.
Be sure to look for reviews!
Now it’s safe to say that nobody is going to post a negative review on their own website but reading them will still give you points to consider when preparing to interview potential contractors.
For example, if communication is very important to you and many of the reviews include comments about very clear and thorough communication, you might be interested in interviewing this contactor. The same goes for cleanliness practices, on time, on budget, or even problem solving. Think about what you want out of a contractor, make a list, and look for these elements when reading client reviews.
Google reviews, Better Business Bureau and contractor specific sites such as Houzz are great places to read reviews as what’s posted publicly is not controlled by the contractor. These are where you’ll find the most organic reviews. If the website shows nothing but rave reviews, but Google illustrates a different client experience, you will want to pay close attention to this. If these differ greatly, you may want to move on.
If the contractor is willing to provide phone numbers for past clients (with their permission of course) for you to ask about their experience, be sure to follow up on any review they may have written and ask more detailed questions.
How Long Have They Been in Business?
When researching a contractor, it’s very important to look at how long they’ve been in business. Home renovation companies in Edmonton, and across the country, are popping up and shutting down all the time for a variety of reasons. Poor quality work, poor business management, and poor staff acquisition and retention are just a few reasons why businesses don’t survive. This is not exclusive to the home renovation industry. What you will likely want is a company that has been in business for a few years, especially for a large-scale project like a full basement development or main floor remodel. Warranty cannot be honoured if the company goes out of business! A contractor that has been in business for a decade or more has proven itself to have stability, to be well established and committed to long term customer service.
Step 2 – Interview the Contractor
By this time, you’ve done adequate preliminary research, and let’s say you’re interested in reaching out to this contractor for your (for example), Edmonton basement renovation. This can be done via phone call, direct email, or the website contact page.
While I can’t speak for other contractors, I can tell you that here at Adlyn Construction, when we are contacted by a new client, we prefer to schedule a Discovery Call. The Discovery Call will help us, and you the client, determine whether we will be a good fit for each other. We have a questionnaire that takes about 20 minutes to go through. We discuss the home itself, special circumstances of the family such as special needs of any family members, timelines, unique renovation desires, and of course budget. From there, if we and the client feel that the fit is good, then we schedule a site visit.
First impressions are very important, and this is the time to dial in your intuition. Are they on time? Are proper introductions made. What about the overall enthusiasm, body language and eye contact. Pay attention to the little things and trust the vibe you’re getting. You were born with intuition, so use it.
During the site visit ask as many detailed questions as you can think of. Remember, there are no dumb questions. Make sure to clearly explain your expectations.
Measurements should be taken by the contractor, who should also be taking notes and photos. If they are not asking a lot of specific questions and explaining options, buyer beware! This is the time to discuss interior designer options, engineering, general layout, timeline, and again, budget. Depending on the year of the house, the contractor should also be investigating and potentially taking samples for asbestos for lab analysis.
Some common building materials that may contain asbestos include ceiling texture, drywall compound, attic and chimney insulation, parging and stucco, HVAC duct tape, and vinyl flooring. If your contractor is not testing for asbestos, in a pre-1990 house, they could be putting you, your family and all the workers at risk.
Here are some questions to consider asking your contractor during the initial site visit:
- What are your cleanliness procedures?
- If we proceed with you, will you provide copies of the permits?
- Can I have copies of your insurance policies?
- Can I phone some of your past and/or current clients?
- What are your working hours?
- Roughly how long will this project take?
- What kind of warranty do you offer?
- Besides the general work area, will you need access to other areas of the home?
Before the end of the initial site visit, it may be determined that a second site visit will be needed with other professionals attending. These could include an interior designer, structural engineer, building envelope engineer, plumber, electrician, or hygienist for asbestos or mould abatement viewing to name a few.
Step 3 – The Contract
First of all, you have to determine how you want to approach this. In my opinion, there are three options to do this.
- Fixed Price Contract
- Cost Plus Contract
- A fixed price contract is a contract where the agreed-upon price for the job is unchanged throughout the project. It doesn’t matter if more time, materials, or labour must be used than what was first estimated, the price stays the same. It’s one of the more straightforward construction contracts.
Even in this type of contract, there are contingencies. We recommend that the client have an additional 10% set aside for contingencies, or unforeseen scope changes. For example, if drywall is removed from a basement exterior wall and foundation cracks are discovered, there will be an extra charge to repair this. As detailed as the scope of work may be outlined, contractors do not have x-ray vision. Some other examples that a contingency fund might be required for include the discovery of electrical or plumbing issues behind walls or client add-ons.
- An estimate is typically a much less detailed quote with allowances. This can ultimately cause a lot of friction between the contractor and client. For example, a lot of general contractors will prepare low-cost estimates, but the client has no idea what will be used for finishing products. Let’s say the estimate states:
- $129.00 product allowance for lavatory faucet
- $1.00/square foot product allowance for LVP flooring
- $0.40/linear foot for baseboards (does this include installation labour?)
- $0.35/board foot for drywall installation
- $40/hour framing for two days (what if it takes 5 days?)
…and so on.
As you can see, this is a guestimate, very vague on details, and opens the door for a ton of extra charges. If the faucet you like is $299.00, the flooring you like is $4.50/square foot and the drywaller charges $0.70/board foot for installation, the eventual final cost of your project could double. This is a scheme that a lot of contractors use to sign the job, looking great with a low price, but then hit the client with endless change orders as the project moves along.
- A cost-plus contract is an agreement between an owner and a contractor, in which the contractor covers the expenses of the project and is reimbursed by the owner. This means the owner is not agreeing to a set budget for things like materials and labour, but rather, agreeing to pay whatever it takes to get the job done. Additionally, the contractor is guaranteed to a set profit in the form of a flat fee or a percentage.
When entering into a cost-plus contract situation, a completion date should be set at the time of signing, as well as details on how to provide raw cost transparency. For example, let’s say that agreement is to invoice bi-weekly. Timesheets, as well as all material receipts and sub-trade invoices could be submitted to the client along with an invoice which clearly shows mark-up.
In addition, a few other elements that should be included on any of these contracts are:
- Detailed description of work
- Start and completion date
- Terms of payment
- Payment schedule
- Standards of work
- Warranty details
It’s not uncommon for contractors to ask for a deposit to cover materials or as a sign of good faith to hold your spot in their calendar. This is absolutely allowed by law however there are a couple caveats. First and foremost, the contractor asking for the deposit (at least in Alberta) must be a Licensed Prepaid Contractor.
According to Alberta legislation, if a contractor meets the requirements to obtain and maintains their license, a maximum deposit of 10% of total project cost can be billed. You can read more about that here.
As you can see, there are lot of things to consider when choosing a contractor to work in your home. The effort you put in for doing research and properly interviewing candidates will benefit you in the long run. Not only with respect to your future resale value, but also for your quality of life and peace of mind.