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Stephan Fanuka : choosing a contractor

Choosing a contractor is kind of like dating. Some people get lucky right off the bat, while others try time after time, in vain, to find “the one.” Unfortunately, finding the wrong contractor is easier than finding the right one. Why? I think it’s because regulations make it too easy to acquire a contractor’s license and the oversight is too lax. When you do search for, and interview, a contractor it is important to take precautions and spend time thinking it through. The wrong contractor can be like a virus: hard to get rid of once on the scene. Following are eight helpful ideas that can help you qualify the right contractor for you:

Start from the beginning

How long does it take the contractor to call you back when you first inquire about having a meeting? If it takes more than 48 hours, he’s too busy or does not care enough. Imagine how long it may take for a simple response to a question once he has a cheque.

The initial meeting is crucial

The contractor should arrive on time and should not be in a rush to leave. He should give you creative input and not be afraid to voice an opinion. Most importantly, decide whether you could see yourself getting along with this person for the duration of your renovation.

The proposal should take two weeks or less to receive 

A proposal should be more than just a page listing some notes; it should be itemized by trades, specifying exactly what will be done with a price for each trade. You want a proposal that has time and effort put into it. If the contractor gives a nice, detailed proposal with everything you need listed then he cared enough to take the proper time to be awarded the project. Get three referrals from trusted sources, like friends or neighbours that have used the person already. If possible, avoid the fancy ads you see in trade sources. Anybody can pay for an ad, but referrals are priceless.

Make sure the contractor you choose is licensed

And make sure the contractor has qualified sub-contractors who are all insured. Get a list of the names of every sub-contractor working on your project, and request a certificate of insurance that lists you as the policy holder for each trade. If a subcontractor’s insurance were about to lapse or expire, you would be notified by via mail. Many contractors use one man as their “Jack of all trades.” If possible, you should get artisans who specialize in a specific trade. You should also request a disability policy for each sub-contractor, so if a worker gets hurt in your home, he won’t come after you.

Decide if your job requires a project manager or a foreman

Does this contractor have the manpower to deliver the job on a timely basis? If he works from his basement and answers his own calls with just an answering machine, chances are he does not have a project manager or anybody else to help lighten the load.

Choose a contractor who is willing to have a weekly site meeting

You want to hire someone who is willing to tell you what to expect in the weeks ahead. That person will also ask you for your input ahead of time so that you do not hold up the progress.

Select someone who has a mobile phone and email

I can’t stand it when I contact someone and don’t get a response the same day. It’s nice to get each question off of your plate easily, because you will have many.

Your contractor should be willing to give you a payment schedule

I like to get paid once a month based on the percentage of what each trade completed. The contractor should also be willing to have 10 per cent held back until all of your “punch list” items are completed to your liking.

Last but not least, use your gut and your brains when choosing the right contractor. The contractor you choose doesn’t have to be the best in the business, but he has to be the best person for your specific job. If you consider my advice, you’ll sleep better at night knowing you made the decision possible. The rest is up to your contractor.