The Comprehensive Guide To Home Renovations Large and Small
Home Renovation Guide - Chapter 5

Finding the Right Contractor

Note: definitions for the underlined words in this chapter are found in the Glossary of Terms.

Many homeowners are giving special attention to their homes from the perspective of building an important financial asset. One used for financial leverage or loan security. Some homeowners even look at their home as a retirement fund to be liquidated and used to benefit the golden years.

One very popular way to increase the profit potential of your real estate is through home improvement and renovation projects. With emphasis on the importance of this asset – the home –it only makes good sense to carefully select just the right contractor for renovation and home improvement projects. A contractor that will complete the job using high quality workmanship; one who won’t skimp on or substitute specified building materials that could compromise the value of your investment.

The type and scope of the project you are planning will determine what type contractor will be needed. If you are planning a larger project, you may want to hire a general contractor. General contractors oversee the entire project and manage all aspects of the work. They bring in the necessary subcontractors and schedule and coordinate the various stages of the project so that work progresses smoothly and quickly.

Subcontractors are specialized in certain areas of expertise such as carpentry, plumbing, or HVAC. Subcontractors may be hired for the specialized portions of a project by the general contractor, or hired for consultation or completion of a specific task by the homeowner.


When seeking the services of either a general or specialized contractor for your renovation project, there are important guidelines that you should follow:

  • A good candidate should have expertise in the type of renovation that you are undertaking. If remodeling a bathroom, you will obviously need the services of an experienced plumber to move or add new plumbing lines and fixtures. The specialized contractor should have required licensing and certification in their field.
  • A reliable contractor will carry up-to-date contractor’s insurance.
  • The contractor should have numerous references and recommendations.
  • Look for a contractor without violations or legitimate complaints on record at the local building authority.
  • Most good contractors will be in high demand; contracting their services and arranging project timelines may need to be done well in advance.


There are several different resources available for finding a reliable contractor:

  • Word of mouth references from friends, relatives, or neighbors who have recently had a home renovation project completed.
  • Local building authorities.
  • Local building or trade associations.
  • Online Internet contractor locating services that help project owners connect with local service provider members. Some offer their services free to project owners. Two reliable resources are for Canadian contractor-to- project owner services, and for USA contractor-to- project owner services.

A rule of thumb is that a candidate should live in close proximity to your area. Once you have assembled a list of likely candidates, use telephone interviews to fine tune the list.

Tell each candidate where you live, and offer general information about your plans in order to discover whether or not they would be interested in undertaking the project. Include such information as type and extent of renovation and remodeling that needs to be done, expected budget, and desired start and completion timetables.


Select candidates that seem like the best choices. Provide each with detailed plans and specifications for the project, and ask for quotes.

To help insure accurate quotes, provide each with exact duplicates of plans and project specifications. It is important to be thorough with all details. There are countless variations and types of materials; all with different cost factors, as well as recommended applications.

For instance, modern trends in the lumber industry have ushered in engineered wood products which are offered in addition to traditional lumber products. Design-specific components such as main support beams and engineered floor joists are available, and may be more cost effective than traditional lumber.

Traditional lumber also comes in different wood types and grades. For example, Hem fir is an economical choice that comes from modern growing techniques. It is usually “S- dry,” which means sun-dried; it may contain high moisture levels, which makes it more prone to mold, warping and twisting. Not the best choice for a stud wall or plate. Kiln- dried Douglas fir is a stable, high-quality choice; but comes at a premium price.

Be specific in your request that the contractor provide an itemized quote which includes all labor, permits, materials, and any other costs. Ask that all costs, including each type material, be itemized and priced individually.

Whether you have a design professional for the planning process, or do it yourself, a thorough, detailed materials list is necessary for obtaining an accurate quote. If a contractor will be compiling the materials list, be sure he understands your expectations and preferences in available choices.


Many contactors provide ball-park figure estimates for a project that may end up being considerably lower that the actual costs once work is under way.

Quotes are somewhat legally binding, and are considered a statement from the contractor that project cost will not exceed the quote. Therefore, it is important that you specify that you are requesting a quote, not an estimate.

Sometimes there are circumstances that might prevent a contractor from adhering to an exact cost amount. For instance, unexpected price increases for a particular material. Potential variables such as this are normally covered by special clauses in the contract agreement, such as acceptable material alternatives; more about that later.

Once you obtain and review all quotes, refine the list further. Cut it down to 3 to 4 candidates, and then arrange for a face-to-face meeting with each


As you meet with each candidate, ask questions and gather as much information as possible. It is a good idea to use a checklist when interviewing each contractor to ensure each aspect of the interview has been covered.

For your convenience, a printable “Contractor Reference Checklist” form has been included in the Printable Forms section at the front of this book.

The interview process should include:

  • Verification or visual proof of current licenses, insurance coverage, and bonding.
  • List of references; especially recent projects.
  • Contractor’s experience with projects similar to yours.
  • The contractor’s detailed, itemized quote that includes labor, materials, permits, and any other costs; in addition to projected hours that will be spent each week working on your project, and start and finish dates.
  • List of possible substitute materials if there are problems obtaining the original.
  • Contractor warranties on materials and workmanship.
  • Frequency that contractor will be onsite to supervise workers and sub-contractors.
  • Whether or not the contractor will be working on other projects simultaneously with your own; if so, the amount of time each week that will be devoted to your project.

Spending time discussing these things with each candidate gives you a chance to evaluate their demeanor. Ask if they have any projects in progress. If so, ask to visit the job site;

to observe their work style, workmanship, and how well they interact with others.

Before making your final selection, thoroughly check all references and credentials. If you don’t use the printable Contractor Reference Checklist located at the front of the book when contacting references, use the checklist below as a guideline as to what type questions to ask:

  • Customer’s name.
  • Date contacted.
  • What work did this customer have done?
  • When was the work completed?
  • Did the customer consider other contractors before hiring this one?
  • If yes, why was this contractor chosen?
  • What responsibilities did the contractor have for this project?
  • What was the best aspect of working with this contractor?
  • Did the customer have problems with any aspect of the contractor’s work or service?
  • Do they recommend this contractor?
  • If they needed additional work done would they hire this contractor again? In addition, ask how the contractor performed in the following areas:
  • Workmanship
  • Kept on budget
  • Kept on schedule
  • Kept work site clean and organized
  • Communicated progress
  • Provided good advice and suggestions
  • Resolved any problems satisfactorily
  • Was easy to talk and work with
  • Delivered what was promised

Finally, check with the local building authority to ensure there are no legitimate complaints or violations on record against the contractor.


Now you must decide which one candidate is best for your project. Make copies of the handy Contractor Selection Checklist in the Printable Forms section, located at the front of the book. This will help you make comparisons to determine the right contractor to select.

Besides necessary licensing and insurance (including Worker’s Compensation), possible health factors are also important. For instance, are there any health-related issues that could delay things once the project is underway?

Because you will have to deal with the contractor throughout project completion, expertise in the required field isn’t the only thing to look for during the interview. How was eye contact? Did the contractor sound confident in his or her ability to complete the job; did they take time to thoroughly answer any questions you had?

Are they the type of person you would feel comfortable with, working in and around your home? Having contact with you and your family on a nearly daily basis?

How receptive were they to your ideas? Did they have the attitude, “I’m the expert…I don’t need your suggestion!” If so, perhaps the contractor isn’t right for you. After all, it is your home; you will be the one living with any changes made.

You will also be the one paying for work performed. You have a right to expect that the completed project will meet your expectations. And that the quality of work will measure up to your standards.

Final Tips

While interviewing contractors, remember; working together will be a two-way street. During the interview, the contractor will be measuring you up as a possible client. It is

important for you to adhere to some standards, too.

Be thorough about your wants and expectations; be willing to meet the contractor

halfway for the purpose of project success. And, have a clear picture of what you want. If you’ve prepared project plans carefully, there won’t be the risk of you changing your mind 10 times in mid stream, once work has already begun. Causing the contractor to become frustrated, adding further expense to the project, and delaying completion time unnecessarily.

< Chapter 4 (Project Planning; Home Structure)  |  Chapter 6 (The Work Contract) >