Any renovation project in your home is high stakes. And this is a game of poker you don’t want to lose.
There’s no getting away from the fact that whether you’re renovating a bathroom, adding a basement or arranging a whole-house renovation from top to bottom, you’re taking a huge risk.
But like with all good poker players, you should only take calculated risks – not wild gambles.
This is a big investment to make while entrusting the integrity of your home to a contractor. It is important to make sure that he or she is a qualified professional.
There’s plenty of homework you can do to tip the odds in your favour. Start by following a few simple guidelines for finding a good contractor in Calgary.
- What do you need to be on the lookout for with contractors?
- How do you vet your shortlist of contractors?
- What questions should you ask them?
- How do you ensure that you’re fully protected if something should go wrong?
All these questions and more are answered with the following tips for hiring a contractor.
Be clear on the purpose – and budget for it
People renovate their homes for different reasons. Before you can work out how much you’re prepared to spend, you need to be clear on the purpose.
For instance, if you are preparing your house to sell, it should be a renovation that increases the value of your home. You may want to restrict the budget and work on the changes that will bring the best bang for the buck.
If you and the family want to convert your home into the dream home you always wanted – but couldn’t afford when you bought – it would be a different approach. Perhaps you had to make compromises back then.
Now you have extra funds to create the lifestyle you really want and are prepared to pay for it rather than relocate. Your budget to get the job done right is likely to be considerably higher than if you were selling.
Budgets affect outcomes. If you are clear on what you want to spend, you can set your expectations correctly on the priorities and go about selecting a reliable contractor who can deliver exactly what you want.
Where do you start looking for a contractor?
There are several reliable places you can start searching for licensed contractors to renovate your home:
- The Calgary Business Licenses on the City of Calgary website and on the Service Alberta website allows you to check if a renovator is licensed
- BBB – the Better Business Bureau is a recognized seal of quality and reliability for most types of small business – and any violations will be on record and visible
- Recommendations from neighbours/family/friends
- Yard signs
Once you’ve got a few names on a shortlist, it’s time to meet the renovators and to find out a bit more about them and their work.
7 essential questions to ask contractors
It’s good to ask open-ended questions that allow your contractors to do most of the talking. That should tell you what you need to know.
With each of the following questions, follow-up questions should follow naturally.
1. What similar work have you done before?
Unless the contractor has a strong track record of completing similar renovation projects, you might like to move along to the next one.
How long has the business been in operation? If the contractor is new to the business, you may be taking an unnecessary risk.
2. What local references/recent projects can I check?
Look at recently completed work, get references in writing and, if possible, speak to the homeowners.
Check the references out.
- Was progress consistent and on schedule?
- Was it completed within budget?
- How were change orders handled?
- Why were the changes needed?
- How was the job site left?
3. What licenses and insurance do you hold?
Reputable contractors will be able to show you licenses and insurance without flinching.
Every qualified contractor in Calgary should have a pocket certificate issued by the Government of Alberta, as well as Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) coverage (ask for the WCB number) covering public liability and property damage coverage for workers on the job.
4. What permits will be necessary?
All reputable contractors should be familiar with the city bylaws in Calgary and the need for permits for building, electrical work, plumbing and gas work, basement development, fireplace work, etc.
Your contractor should be able to arrange all this.
5. Who will be doing the renovation?
You want to know who is coming into your home so it’s important to find out if the contractor will be managing the project in person and with an in-house team or sending sub-contractors in.
If there are trade partners involved (electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc.) find out how long the contractor has been working with them.
6. How long will the work take and how do you bill it?
Get an estimate on how long the work will take and how the contractor expects payment.
Never provide more than a 10 percent down payment for a large renovation project before the contractor begins work.
7. What does your quote include and exclude?
You need an accurate estimate and breakdown of the project’s costs so that you understand exactly what is and is not included.
Your estimate should include a timeline and a detailed list of building materials, as well as the responsibilities of all subcontractors.
Does the quote include all labour and materials required for completing the project and for cleaning up afterwards?
The bottom line? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Unless you’re satisfied with the answers to at least these seven questions, you might want to continue your hunt.
Interview three contractors in-depth before you decide
Any good contractor will commit to what they say in writing. Don’t be scared to ask for this. If it is not in writing, it doesn’t exist with building work or renovation.
However, getting written quotes is actually the easy part. The hard part of finding the right contractor is actually locating a professional who is a good fit for what you want.
After all, renovations are big projects and you could be reliant upon the professionalism of your contractor for months ahead. It should be a priority to get to know the team and their capabilities first.
This takes a little time upfront but you will find it time well spent if you interview at least three contractors in-depth before you make a decision.
With each contractor, be sure to identify and quantify:
- The work you want to be done
- Any specific concerns that need addressing
- The quality and type of materials to be used
- Timelines for each phase of the project
- Deposits and progress payments
As a guideline for the timing of deposits and progress payments, you can expect payments to be requested at the following project stages:
- Initial deposit (custom ordered materials etc.)
- Ready for backfill
- Ready for drywall
- Ready for finishing
- Cabinets delivered
- Ready for painting
- Ready for flooring
This will form the basis of your agreement so it must all be included to your satisfaction before signing any paperwork.
Be aware of the need for a lien fund
Here’s where we put our legal hats on.
The homeowner is responsible for ensuring that a lien fund is in place and handled properly.
In Alberta, the lien fund is set at 10 percent of the project cost. Then, 45 days after substantial completion, the lien fund can then be released to the renovator in the absence of builder liens on the title check.
Why trust our word on this?
Well, apart from our word being our bond, We’ve also been renovating homes and building custom homes in Calgary since 1977.
We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly with contactors in Calgary during that time.
Fortunately, the bad and the ugly don’t last long. They are soon found out and rustled out of town!
Unfortunately, they often leave a big mess behind them. We’ve seen this on many occasions and done our fair share of “making good” for homeowners around Calgary.
That’s how I know how to find a good contractor to renovate your home.
Download a complete home renovation checklist
Are you in the process of considering home improvements or a major renovation? We have prepared a checklist that covers all the main considerations.
Don’t miss a thing. Download our home renovation checklist and make sure you have all your bases covered.