17 Questions to Ask a General Contractor Upfront to Avoid Disaster
In late 2013, Kris N. went to check on the building contractors working on the gutted house she inherited from her mother, only to find they had flown the coop. No equipment. No notice. Nothing.
They had started the job in June of that year, and by November, Kris had noticed they seemed to be leaving for the day earlier and earlier. They had frequently been asking for more money despite the fact she felt “double charged for shabby, incomplete work.” When she started pushing back, they disappeared.
Unfortunately, she trusted her contractors to do the right thing and did not do her due diligence when hiring. All she had to show for it was an uninhabitable home.
That is an extreme example, but disputes with contractors happen all the time. Mike Holmes has made a television career out of correcting shoddy renovations.
It is worth taking the time to ask essential questions when hiring for contractor services.
By getting satisfactory answers to these 17 questions, you can make sure your work gets done right the first time with no hassles.
1. What is the structure of your company?
The organization of a company will tell you a lot about how they work and what you can expect. You should know how the business management, sales team, design staff, and site managers all relate to one another - and meet as many of them as possible in person during the early consideration stage.
2. How long have you been working in this industry?
Your first question should be digging into how long they have been working in the industry. While this shouldn’t discourage you from hiring someone who is still cutting their teeth, a longer track record generally equals a proven one.
3. Can you provide a portfolio and references for this type of project?
If the contractor says they’ve been working in your city for the past 30 years, they should have a list of references long enough to reflect that. It is worth calling multiple references before committing - some contractors may even invite you to visit the site of a current project they are working on to get a sense of how they operate.
Some questions to ask references include:
Did the contractor treat their home with respect?
Would they work with the contractor again?
Did they feel they got good value for their money?
You will also want to consult their portfolio to look at the quality of their work and ensure it meets your vision of the project.
4. Are you a fully licensed contractor?
Viewing the contractor's license is a wise move as it shows that the contractor is qualified by your city to perform renovation work. It is a guarantee that the contractor will adhere to local building regulations - else they risk losing their certification.
Here in Toronto contractors are required to have a Building Renovator Licence. Certification requires the contractor to submit identification, business registration, and take a trade exam.
5. What professional organizations do you belong to?
It is worth looking for recognition by professional accreditations since members must adhere to a set of ethical practices in order to maintain active membership.
Within the Greater Toronto Area you’ll want to look for contractors that are RenoMark certified through the Toronto-based Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD). The RenoMark program was established by BILD in 2001 and is now the Canadian standard of ethics and excellence for contractors.
6. Are you able to provide me with a copy of your insurance?
Liability insurance is an absolute necessity for ensuring that damage to yours or your neighbour’s property is covered. You should look for a policy that covers upwards of $5m in damages.
You will also want to ensure that the contractors have worker’s compensation insurance, otherwise, you could end up footing the bill for a contractor’s injury. Here in Ontario, you’ll be asking for their WSIB clearance certificate.
7. Are you able to pull the permits and inspections required for this job?
If your contractor wants to do major renovation work without acquiring a permit, this is a severe red flag. Not every renovation project requires a permit or city inspections, but if it does, your contractor should be the one applying for those permits.
8. What is the projected timeline of the project?
Experienced contractors will be able to give you a clear picture of how long a project will take and discuss upfront how any changes to the project timeline or scope will be addressed.
9. How do you settle disagreements during your projects?
Hopefully, you develop a bond of trust with your contractor, but part of that process is in asking them about disagreements they’ve had with clients and how they were resolved.
It is in the contractor’s best interest to show you that they are strong communicators and also actively listen and act on any concerns their clients have.
10. How much will this project cost?
The contractor should be providing you with a contract that agrees on a fixed price with an agreement that any cost adjustments during the project are handled via change orders. A change order would be used for any adjustment to the scope, schedule, or cost of the work
The contractor may offer to lower the price if you pay in cash, but this should never come at the cost of a legal contract. Without a contract in place, there is no legal recourse if the contractors damage your home or decide to up and leave.
11. How are additional charges handled?
Any changes to the timeline or scope of the project should involve a change order - a separate document from the primary contract that provides a fixed cost for those changes. Both you and the contractor must agree to the terms in the document before any additional or subtractive work is carried out.
12. What is your deposit and payment structure?
If the contractor is asking for more than half of the money upfront, that’s a red flag. A professional contractor will generally ask for no more than 15% upfront to secure their services - though the deposit may be more if materials, fixtures or specialty items that must be ordered ahead of time make up a large portion of the project cost.
You will also want to discuss the payment schedule ahead of time, so you know by what date or construction phase you owe further payments.
13. Can you produce a contract?
You’re putting your home in harm’s way without a contract. You want to make sure you have a reference point for the agreement between you and your contractor to come back to should there be any issues that arise.
A construction contract should include:
A full description of the project
Project cost and payment schedule
Approximate project dates
Warranty on any service and materials
Appropriate insurance coverage for the type of project
Your responsibilities as set out in a contract may include:
Ensuring the site is accessible during agreed-upon work hours
Managing the movement of furniture and protection of personal items
Agreement that all contracting of work or scope changes go through the project manager
Agreement that you cannot hold the renovator responsible for any damages to property or injury to contractors working outside the scope of the renovation project outlined in the contract
Take the time to carefully read your contract before signing. You must agree to the terms of contract – such as payment terms and timelines. If your renovation is complex, it’s a good idea to seek out a legal professional to review the terms with you.
14. Who will be my on-site project manager?
If the contractor can’t tell you who your dedicated on-site project manager is, consider looking elsewhere. You will want to have a single point of leadership to ensure consistency. If possible, you should seek out references who have worked with them before since having a good rapport with this person will make your renovation that much smoother.
15. Will you provide me with regular project updates?
A dedicated project manager also provides a single point of contact while your renovation is ongoing, so you always know who to talk to. The project manager makes regular site visits, and also maintains communication with the subcontractors while offsite.
You will also want to set up a communication schedule for regular site-meetings so you’re never left in the dark on the state of the project.
16. Will there be a dedicated team working on the project?
Consistency is key during large renovation projects, so you’ll want to make sure that the core of the renovation team will be the same throughout.
Be sure to also ask:
Have you worked with the tradespeople involved in the project on previous projects?
Are the subcontractors you use fully licensed and covered by your insurance or theirs?
17. What steps are being taken to protect my home?
Lastly, you’ll want to make sure that the contractors are taking all reasonable measures to protect your property during work. This may include:
Use of shoe coverings
Suggested removal of furniture from areas of the home
Use of tarps on furniture and floors
Keep the door locked and home secure when coming and going
Fully-Licensed GTA Renovation Contractors Since 1986
At Bryant Renovations, we are fully committed to our design-build renovation model that incorporates sales, design and project management at all stages of the project. We have continued to refine our processes over our 30+ years in business and are proud of our many glowing customer testimonials.
If you live in the Greater Toronto Area and are looking for a home renovation company to realize your vision, let’s start a conversation.