Overall Value is Key

Research Your Renovator to Avoid GriefWhen Expanding or Improving

While there’s nothing wrong with saving a buck on your renovation project, from getting a couple of free estimates to finding cheaper versions of designer paint and fabrics, more often than not, cut-rate prices end up being expensive propositions.

That’s why the most important step in a home renovation comes before the first board is cut: finding and hiring the right contractor to do the job at a fair price.

In most cases, a bit of research and some good old-fashioned legwork will save loads of grief. And sometimes a bit of cash up-front for estimates may also be the way to find the best person for the job.

Don’t rule out the Yellow Pages as a good source for contractors, but asking a neighbor who recently had work done and getting a list from the local builders’ association or a large home renovation center may be the best way to ensure a contractor is reputable.

Once a list is assembled, it’s time to get on the phone. A good contractor won’t mind giving out a couple of references and most will welcome the opportunity to showcase work to potential clients. If a contractor is unwilling to provide references, don’t hire him.

Before calling the reference, it’s a good idea to write a list of questions so the information gathered is consistent and easy to compare. Questions should focus on the quality of work, adherence to schedules and budgets, and how the contractor dealt with problems of follow-up repairs. Always ask if the person would hire the contractor again.

Once a shortlist is created, it’s time to interview the contactor. But remember that there are a few non-negotiable when there’s work being done in the house, such as liability insurance and Workers’ Compensation coverage. A valid business or tax number tells you that they are registered with the government. Reputable contractors will also provide a written warrant that specifies the scope and length of coverage and will insist that a building permit is obtained before the work begins.

Beyond the information gathered in the interview, the process also allows the homeowner a chance to get a gut feeling about the contactor. Remember this person will be working in your house for weeks and you will have to deal with them constantly. A contactor who doesn’t give a good feeling or can’t answer questions should be eliminated.

Once there’s a shortlist, it’s time to get some bids. While there is no set number, try to get at least three for an adequate comparison and an informed decision.

The accuracy of the bid depends upon the information provided to the contractor. A clear and detailed renovation plan is a must to get workable results. Without the right information, each of the bidders will connect his own dots and the bids may be wildly dissimilar.

Once the bids come back, compare the result to the plans provided to ensure that it actually propose to do the specified work. Then compare the prices, payment terms, and work schedules.

Beware that the cheapest bid might not be the best one. Look for the one that offers the best overall value, not just the lowest price. Compare attention to detail, materials, textures, design, and other small touches that make a room sing. And don’t back away if the contractor asks you to pay for a bid. In many cases, you get what you pay for.

Once a contractor is chosen, get it all in writing to protect yourself. Possible problems may be as simple as a dispute with the contractor, or lawsuits as a result of accidents, work-related injuries, or damages to third parties.

A contract also helps protect against other potential problems, such as losing deposits or advance payments, poor or incomplete work, and the wonderful practice of upping the final price because of unexpected expenses.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association provide sample contracts online for homeowners looking to hire a contractor. One final note: Inform you home insurance company before any work begins.

Some homeowner policies don’t cover construction-related risks or theft of building materials form the worksite. If you don’t call your home insurance provider to answer these questions and ensure you have adequate coverage, the cost of this omission could turn newly renovated home into the poor house.

Attributed to Jeff Pappone. Who is an Ottawa freelancer. Consummate Consumer appears every second week in the Ottawa Citizen. This article appeared Saturday, July 5, 2003