Questions to ask a Contractor before a Renovation

Questions for your Renovation Project Manager or Contractor

First, do you know the basics of a home renovation? Check out our first post on renovating your condo in East Van.

If you’re getting ready to renovate your home in East Vancouver, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is if you’re going to manage the project yourself or if you will hire a project manager. If you’re new to renovations, hiring a project manager is the way to go. It will cost you, but it’ll save you time in doing the renovation, and hassle in ensuring everything is done properly with licensed tradespeople (contractors) and you may even reap the benefit of cheaper materials.

Luckily there are many different renovation project management companies in Vancouver, so you’ll be able to find one that suits your budget, personality, and expectations. You’ll need to feel comfortable with your project manager in order to ensure the project goes smoothly, even when you hit the unexpected delays and issues. You’ll be chatting with this person A LOT, so finding a person you like is important.

There are small differences between a project manager and lead contractor, with the project manager overseeing the entire job: from tear down, to tradespeople, to installation, to permits, to design, to clean up. If you’re keen to do the design, ordering, tear down and clean up yourself, you may just need to hire a lead contractor to organize the tradespeople and permits.

If you want to find a renovation project manager/lead contractor that meets your expectations (and more!), shop around and ask each potential person the following questions:

1: Tell me about your Business

Know how many renovations and projects the project manager/contractor has completed, as well as the general scope (do they normally do condos or houses, luxury renos vs simple designs, etc). If the renovation is going to be big, hiring a seasoned professional is helpful to mitigate any issues before they arise, though you might save some money with someone newer to game looking to get their business going.

Ask questions about a company’s business practices and experiences with the remodelling project you need. Find out what kind of procedures, standards and rules this contractor would follow to meet your demands.

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Are you properly licensed and insured?
  • What percentage of your clientele is repeat or referral business?
  • Do you have a list of references from past projects similar to mine?
  • Do the contractors you use have proper training, permits and insurance?
  • Do you use an in house contractor and design team, or do you hire contract workers for each project?
  • How have you handled projects that have experiences unfortunate delays or issues?
  • Can you view the space before offering a potential quote?

Google them! Yelp them! Search the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website! See if they’re on Houzz, or Facebook, to see how they interact with others, answer questions or reach out to potential clients.

2: Do You Provide a Detailed Written Contract?

Misunderstandings happen. Things change. A written, detailed contract helps both you and the contractor know what is expected from both parties. So every job, no matter how small, should have a signed contract by the contractor and customer. The contract should include:

  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of all parties involved in the project, including vendors
  • Detailed list of the work to be completed
  • List of each product along with its price and model number
  • The responsibility of everyone involved
  • Where deliveries will go and where the dumpster will be placed
  • What time the workers begin and end their day
  • Project’s start and completion dates along with the payment schedule
  • All work that will be carried out by subcontractors, and who those people are

Anything that changes along the way must be written and signed in a change order, which makes sure everyone is in agreement on the change, price, time, or anything else that is adjusted from the original contract.

3: How Much Money Do I Need to Put Down?

If the contractor asks you to pay for all of the project’s cost upfront, it’s time to find another contractor. An unreasonable deposit is the first sign something is fishy.

The Better Business Bureau’s website suggests going by the rule of thirds: Pay one third at the beginning of the project, one third when work is 50 percent complete, and one third after it is final and you are satisfied with the outcome.

But chances are your contractor will have a formula to determine how much money is needed to get the job started. Most contractors will ask for 15% to 25% down, before beginning the project. They need to do a lot of organizing and ordering to get the project started so this deposit will cover that work.

4: Can I Get Itemized Price Estimates of Work and Materials?

Some contractors like to hand you a bid with one price estimate for the entire project because it’s less work on their end. Don’t let them. You will need details on all the costs associated with the project and each item purchased.

Here’s why an itemized estimate is essential: If midway through the project you decide to put in a less expensive countertop than the one originally discussed, you need to know the exact cost of the first countertop. Without it, you have no way of knowing how much of a credit you should receive.

An itemized price list should detail the cost of labor, demolition, materials, electrical, plumbing, permits, and more.

5: Who Will Be at the Site?

The project manager might only show up to sign the contract and present the finished product. It’s important to know the role of the project manager, head contractor and whoever will be your point of contact on the site every day. You’ll want to meet this person to ensure your personalities match and you’re both on the same page with regards to expectations and timeline.

6: How would you Describe your Personality?

Just like any good relationship, the one between you and your contractor should have good communication and collaboration. Some personalities and styles just don’t mesh so you’ll want to pick someone who you feel comfortable with.

Protect yourself. We’ve unfortunately seen some lawsuits regarding home renovations, so do your due diligence before the project starts. It doesn’t hurt to ask – but it sure could hurt if you don’t.