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What I Wish I’d Known Before Hiring a Contractor

On the hunt for a contractor to handle your home renovation or repair job? These helpful hints could save you time, money, and a lot of headaches.

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Hiring a contractorPhoto: Shutterstock

Not all contractors are created equal

If your handyperson says they can “do it all,” watch out; electrical, plumbing and structural fixes require a licensed professional. A sure sign that contractors can be trusted is if they tell you they’re not the best person to do a particular job and recommend someone else instead.

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Finding the right contractorBrett Walther

Research is key

Good contractors get work through word of mouth, so they don’t really need to advertise. When you’re looking to hire someone, says Steve Maxwell, a widely published home improvement coach, ask friends and family for recommendations. If the job is large, consider several options, ask for at least three references and speak to previous clients before you sign any contracts.

Find out the home renovation mistakes that could send your property’s resale value into a tailspin.

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Searching for Canadian contractorsPhoto: ShutterStock

Check the right websites

Can’t rely on word of mouth? Consider searching for contractors by checking out online review services like Reno AssistanceHomeStars and TrustedPros.

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Schedule an annual home inspectionPhoto: ShutterStock

Schedule an annual checkup

Ask a contractor to inspect your house once a year. Do you need to caulk around your windows and doors? Are any shingles loose? It’s a lot less expensive to hire someone to address those things than it is to replace them after years of neglect.

Find out how to get the most from a home inspection.

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Keep a clean housePhoto: ShutterStock

Fees may vary

Contractors may charge different prices for the same job. Some ask for more when they’re busy. They may also raise their fees for houses that are filthy, so keep yours clean.

Here’s how to clean your entire kitchen, according to The Marilyn Denis Show‘s Charles the Butler.

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Renovating a kitchenPhoto: ShutterStock

Be ready to pay (a little) upfront

Many jobs will require about a 10 per cent deposit—this books a contractor’s time and is a sign of the homeowner’s good faith. But they might require more, says Steve Payne, the editor of Canadian Contractor. If you’re having a new kitchen built, for example, your contractor will want to cover the cost of custom cabinets and counters, neither of which will be reusable if the project doesn’t go forward.

Here are 10 mistakes to avoid during a major home remodel.

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Installing new patio doorsPhoto: ShutterStock

Don’t be too hasty to ditch broken items

Before you throw something out, ask whether your contractor can repair it. They might be able to fix window frames, furniture and crown moulding—even tree houses and sheds.

Here are 50 things worth repurposing around the house.

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Fixing a leaky faucetPhoto: ShutterStock

Nothing in life is free

While many workers will be happy to adjust your sticky door or tighten that leaky faucet, don’t act surprised when they charge you. Contractors make a big part of their living from those “while you’re here” jobs.

Find out six things professional plumbers never do in their own homes.

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Don't try to do it yourselfPhoto: ShutterStock

Let the professionals do their job

You could pay for the material yourself to cut costs, but don’t ask if there’s any way you can help out in exchange for a lower price. Payne says that the contractor could be held liable if you get injured.

Need more convincing? This gallery of do-it-yourself bathroom design fails should do the trick.

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Expect to pay more than the estimatePhoto: ShutterStock

Always include extra cash in your budget—just in case

Always include some wiggle room in your budget. “If you’ve got a contract for $127,000 and you can really only afford $127,000, you’re nuts,” says Payne. No matter how good a contractor is, they don’t have X-ray vision—they might find mould, structural issues, plumbing or electrical problems that need to be addressed during your home renovation.

Learn to spot the signs you might have a termite infestation.

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Get a contract from your contractorPhoto: ShutterStock

Make sure you get a contract

While it may be tempting to hire cash contractors—a handyperson whom you pay under the table, without a contract, avoiding taxes and getting a cheaper rate—Payne warns against it. “If the job goes south, there’s no paper trail,” he says. “You’re totally unprotected.”

Here are more money mistakes that are costing you thousands.

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You can pay your contractor in installmentsPhoto: ShutterStock

You can pay in installments

Establish payment stages in your contract. Possible milestones can include framing, plumbing and wiring, drywall and finishes, and you can give your contractor a certain percentage when they reach those milestones. “It’s an incentive to keep things rolling,” says Maxwell.

Here are 13 secrets real estate agents want you to know.

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Stick to your original reno plansPhoto: ShutterStock

Stick to The plan

Make firm decisions, Payne advises. Changing details like finishes or tiles can prolong jobs and result in money down the drain.

Next, check out HGTV star Bryan Baeumler’s tips for a successful kitchen reno.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada