Interviewing and Hiring Prospective Contractors

Interviewing and hiring contractors

Written by: Muskoka Home Builders´ Association

You will obviously want to learn as much as you can about the people you're going to hire. This is why it's a very good idea to interview each of the contractors on your short list.

You may feel uncomfortable with interviewing prospective contractors, but here are some good questions to get you started:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What types of projects have you done in the past which are similar to mine? (Most contractors will have a portfolio they can show you.)
  • What sort of experience and training have your staff had?
  • Who will actually do the work on my project?
  • If you get the job, can you meet my timelines?
  • What will be your level of commitment to my project? OR How many other projects are you working on at the same time?
  • Perhaps most important of all, get a list of references from the contractor and make sure they are recent.

You can also check out the Canadian Home Builders' Association's special website: for a list of additional questions to ask your contractors.

Check References

Your next step is to check those references. Remember, an unchecked reference is no reference at all. Sounds logical, right? Don't assume that just because you've been given references by the contractor they'll all be good, or that you won't learn anything from a happy reference. At the very least they can ease your mind about the reputation of the contractor, and you may be able to see the work first-hand.

Even if you don't get a chance to see the reference's project, you should still ask some specific questions about it. Be sure to ask them what type of project it was, how long ago the work was done, whether the contractor met their agreed upon deadlines, was on budget, was easy to contact and finally, would they hire that contractors again.

You can also get some useful worksheets for checking references at

Hire the Right People

When it comes to hiring anybody to do anything, we all have the same fear: “I'll hire someone who is incompetent, untrustworthy or who will take advantage of me.”

Not if your hire the right people.

Obvious, right? You're thinking “Why would I want to hire the wrong people?” Well, you wouldn't - not intentionally, anyway. The real question you want to ask is, “How will I know who the right people are?”

It's a two-part process. First, you've got to decide on the right TYPE of contractor for your job. Then, you've got to find and choose the best company. You can't possibly make this decision until you consider the two primary aspects of your project - size and complexity.

If your project is a small, straightforward one that can be completed in a few days with minimal disruption, then maybe a handyman or a trade specialist could get the job done.

If it's a project that involves a relatively small number of suppliers or trades, then you have a number of options. If, for example, you're doing renovations to your kitchen and need new cabinets, you could hire one of the specialist companies, one that provides complete kitchens, OR you can go to a building supply store and buy installation along with your cabinets. Another option is for you to order the supplies and supervise the installation yourself OR FINALLY, you can get a renovator or contractor to order the supplies and supervise the installation.

What Type of Professional Do I Need?

If your project is a large or complex one that involves maximum disruption, take weeks to complete and involves a number of different trades revolving through the site, such as the building of a new home or cottage, you could …

  • If you're an organized person, good with people and enjoy detail, you could manage the project yourself. But be aware that it's a big commitment of time and effort, that includes getting estimates from different trade contractors and suppliers, negotiating contracts, obtaining permits, scheduling trades and deliveries, etc. You should also be aware that if you act as your own general contractor, this will limit the amount of warranty protection you get.
  • Or, if you're like most owners, you probably have trouble seeing yourself in that role. In that case, you'll probably want to hire a general contractor or renovator to handle it for you. That's their business.

Gather Names

Once you know what type of professional you need to hire you can start gathering names.

  • Start with recommendations from friends and neighbours. Chances are you know someone who's had some work done in the last year or so by someone they would recommend.
  • Contact the local Home Builders' Association for a list of member contractors.
  • Visit home shows.
  • Ask for recommendations from you local building supply store and ask if they provide installation services for the products they sell.
  • If you've just moved, ask your real estate agent.
  • Search out Industry Construction Trade Magazines or Directories such as Muskoka TradeSource.
  • And if none of these bear fruit, you can always look for ads in the local newspaper or yellow pages. Be careful with ads, because they don't really tell you very much about the contractor.

Narrow the Field

Now that you have a list of names, you need to narrow the field. The best way to do this is to call each one of them up and ask them if they will meet with you to discuss your project and tell you about their company. Those that don't return your calls or respond promptly can be dropped from your list.

For those that you want to meet with, make sure that you mention you are looking for a contractor who operates their business properly and ask them the following questions …

  • Do you have Workers' Compensation coverage?
  • Can you provide me with written proof (Clearance Certificate)?
  • If you don't have Workers' Compensation, then can you show me proof of an equivalent in private insurance coverage?
  • Do you carry comprehensive business liability insurance? Can you provide me with a copy of your policy?
  • Do you have a valid Business Number or GST Number?

If they're willing to provide you with all of the above, then ask them the following question …

“Do you provide a written warranty on your work? If so, for how long? And will you provide me with a proper written contract?”

If they answer yes to all of the above, congratulations, they make the short list. If they can't or won't provide the information you've asked for, drop them. It's a clear sign they aren't professional. Remember, you only want to work with trustworthy, professional companies and individuals, otherwise you can't control your risks.

Posted by: TrustedPros
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