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  • Writer's pictureDon McCuaig

How to pick a good contractor

Updated: Jan 10, 2020

I have met with a lot of homeowners over the years to speak about their potential renovation. One of the most, if not the most, stressful parts of a renovation for homeowners is finding a contractor in Ottawa and how do you know if the contractor is good. I decided to make a post to offer some tips to weed out the potentially bad contractors from the good ones.


How do I Pick a Contractor

1: Educate yourself on permits. Know whether your project requires a building permit.

2. Have a renovation plan before calling contractors. Write down your plan so you give the same details to each contractor. This doesn't need to be extremely descriptive but should include details as to what you are replacing, if the room is going to be getting bigger or services will be moved, approximate size of the room.

3: Find 3 contractors. The best way to find these 3 contractors is first by being given a recommendation from a friend or family member that has had similar work done by the contractor. Second would be just using the internet. There are many ways to find contractors through the internet such as social media, google search, certain forums, etc.. Most are familiar with this but the best option is still a referral.

4. Call the 3 contractors, tell them your renovation plan, during your conversation try to ask whether your project requires a permit. If they get this question wrong, find a way to end the discussion. This is a critical question, every professional contractor should know the answer and would not be bothered by the permit process. It is easy, adds minimal cost to the project, and gives you a much better chance of success on your renovation. Find another contractor to replace any that failed this question.

5. Schedule estimates with 3 contractors. If one doesn't show and doesn't give you a call to tell you why, find another one. Don't give up until you have 3 delivered estimates.

6. Ask the potential contractors the following questions:

- Do we need an electrician? If you have electrical work in your project you need an electrician. No questions asked. Move on from any contractor who gets this wrong.

- Do we need a plumber? Same as above, if you have plumbing work to be done you need a plumber.

- Do we need an engineer? If there is structural work to be done you need an engineer. This would be removing a structural wall, enlarging or adding a window.

- Do you have liability insurance and workers insurance?

- If you haven't already asked in the phone conversation about a building permit do so now. You know the answer, it is just a test.

- Do you use a contract and how does the payment process work? There should always be a contract for every project, otherwise, how do you know what you're paying for? Payments should be staggered and due as the job progresses. The amount upfront should be very small, 5 - 10% of the project cost is normal. The rest of the payments should be split up and due as tasks are completed on your project. Don't put out a large amount of money up front. The payments should be more or less equally spread out throughout the project.

7. Once you receive the estimates look through them. Judge them based on clarity, descriptiveness, and ease of reading. It should make sense, be well laid out, describe all work that is going to happen, and the price should be within 25% of the other estimates. If one estimate is way off or you can't understand it at all then find another contractor and make sure you receive 3 estimates.

8. Now that you've looked at the 3 estimates. Select your favorite contractor based on your meeting and the estimate. You aren't done however, there is one more step. Let the contractor know through email or phone that you've made your choice but would like to have 3 references of similar projects. Contact all 3 references and if at all possible, view one project. Viewing a project may be out of the question for many but contact the reference either through phone or email and ask them how the project went. Did it come in over or under budget, finish on time or longer ,if they are happy, etc..

9. The hard part of finding a contractor is now over. It's time to sign a contract with your chosen contractor. The contract should stipulate terms of payment and schedule for the project along with various other details.

Although no guide to finding a good contractor can guarantee success, if you follow the steps above it'll give you a much better chance at having a successful renovation. Good luck in your search for a renovation contractor in Ottawa


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