A man hammers in the background with a sledgehammer and drill in front of him, showing why it's important to hire a licensed contractor

While it can be fun to take on DIY home renovation projects, there are some jobs that are best left to the pros. When done incorrectly, projects like countertop replacement, intricate tilework, and cabinet installation, for example, can actually decrease your home’s value — so get the most out of your investment by bringing in qualified tradespeople who can help you select and install quality materials.

Specialized renovations that affect the guts of your home (including its structure, plumbing, electrical, heating or air conditioning, and gas) should always be completed by licensed professionals who are equipped to meet today’s safety standards.

Here are some things to check off your list as you get ready to hire a contractor:

Shop around and get multiple quotes

When you’re planning a home reno, ask for quotes from multiple contractors (three or more) so you get a sense of the local landscape. Trust your gut when you’re deciding which one to choose, and consider using these questions as a guide:

  1. Do they understand what you want? Before you ask for a quote, make sure you’ve told the contractor exactly what you’re looking for. A reputable contractor should be able to complete the project to your specifications, while providing some insight and suggestions here and there — but if it seems like they’re tailoring the project to suit their own style and not yours, this may not be the contractor for you.
  2. Is the quote appropriate for your project? If one quote is much lower than the rest, read it thoroughly and ask yourself why that might be. If this contractor has left some necessary costs out of the quote, you may find yourself paying for unexpected expenses as the project nears completion.
  3. Will they help you get the right permits? Depending on what kind of renovations you’re doing, you may need to get building permits (or even a home inspection) before you begin. As the homeowner, this is your responsibility. If a contractor offers to arrange permits or inspections for you, make sure associated fees are included in their quote. To learn what types of projects require permits, visit the website for your municipality or contact your municipal office.
  4. How well do you get along? Your contractor is going to be spending a good deal of time in your home, so it’s important that you trust them and feel you have an open line of communication at all stages of your project. If you’re already butting heads or having trouble communicating at the quoting stage, it may be time to say goodbye.

Ask for references

Before hiring a contractor, ask to see photos of past work they’ve done (ideally projects similar to yours) and reach out to some of the people they’ve worked for. Consider asking these three questions:

  1. Was the experience positive overall?
  2. Was the project completed on time and on budget?
  3. Did the contractor deliver what was promised?

As you narrow down your list, you may also want to read some reviews online to see what other past clients have to say before you sign the contract.

Get a detailed contract (and read it thoroughly before you sign it)

Once you’ve checked out references and read through all of your quotes, it’s time to make your final decision — but before you sign on the dotted line and agree to work with a contractor, make sure they’ve outlined the details in writing. The more nitty-gritty details, the better. When reading through the contract, look for:

  • The scope of the project. What exactly is included — or not included — in this project, and who is responsible for making sure it gets done?
  • A breakdown of costs. This should include materials (with specified brand names), labour, and any other possible expenses.
  • The approximate start and finish date. This should also include an agreement outlining what will happen if the project cannot be completed on time.
  • Details about building permits. If the contractor says they will get any required permits from your local government, this should be stated clearly.
  • A strategy for dealing with change. What will happen if changes need to be made or extra supplies need to be ordered partway through the project?
  • An outline of how and when the contractor expects to be paid. This should include the percentage of your deposit and a schedule of all instalments.
  • Insurance information. The contractor should provide their Certificate of Insurance, which should list the name of their insurance company, their policy number, policy limits, and expiry date. If you hire workers that aren’t insured, you could be held responsible if they are injured on your property or cause any damage.
  • Licensing details. Make sure you’re hiring a licensed contractor.
  • Other information. Look for details about health and safety, warranties, dispute resolution, and termination.

Consider having the contract reviewed by a lawyer, especially for larger projects.

Talk to your group’s broker before getting started

There are many types of renovations that likely won’t affect your home insurance (like getting new carpets or painting, for example), but others could affect your premium or your coverage (like structural changes, for example). Plus, if you’re going to move out while your renovations are underway, there may be special changes in coverage you need to know about. Reach out to your group’s home insurance broker before you start your next renovation project.

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