How To Hire A Contractor

Hiring the right professionals to renovate or build a house can be daunting. Hiring the wrong one can have devastating consequences. But how do you find the right contractor? Vancouver Home asked Joel Barrett, director/owner of Barrett Group Custom Builders, for his advice.

Question: Joel, is it advisable to choose a contractor based on pricing or budget?
Answer: Generally speaking, pricing seems to be one of the main deciding factors for most homeowners when choosing a General Contractor. But it shouldn’t be. A referred contractor that you trust is a far better match in the long run.

Cost is extremely important; in the past I’ve seen numerous clients pick builders based on low cost alone and, nine out of ten times, this leads to disappointment and cost overruns for the client. It is always wise to get multiple quotes and then spend the time to compare them. More often than not you won’t be comparing “apples to apples.” A great example is when you hear someone say that they went way over budget on their project but didn’t make any changes or additions to the original plans. This isn’t a case of being over budget; it’s a case of not having the correct budget to begin with.

The contractor should be given time to tender the pricing for sub trades and estimate the costs of materials and labour for the project. This process should provide a more accurate budget based upon the plans and specifications that were provided to the contractor. Remember, the more detailed that the budget appears should indicate that more care and effort has gone into the development of an accurate budget. It is at this stage that the homeowner can see if the contractor is, in fact, including everything that the homeowner is expecting – by comparing the accuracy and details of the various proposals.

Q: What steps can I take to check on a contractor’s past work?
A: While client references are always a great start. I also recommend checking in with a Contractors suppliers and trades. This can reveal a lot about the Contractor and how they do business.

Q: What recourse do I have if I choose the wrong contractor?
A: Insuring a proper contract is in place prior to the project beginning is a great start. The contract should provide guidelines for recourse – on both sides. Depending on how far along in the project, it can be very difficult to get another contractor in to replace the first one. Many contractors do not want to step in to clean up another contractor’s mess. That being said, doing your homework and hiring the right GC in the beginning will save you a world of problems and headache.

Q: What qualifications should my contractor have and how can I find out if s/he is fully qualified?
A: There are many things that can be confirmed that show the contractor is indeed qualified: is the contractor a member of a credible home building association, is the company up to date with their WorkSafe insurance, is the contractor licensed to build new homes through a regulated and monitored provincial licensing association, and does the company have liability insurance? A contractor that is a member of these various associations and groups will, very likely, will have gone through various vetting processes to be part of the association or even qualify as a new home builder. BGCB is a member of GVHBA, CHBA, BC Housing and WorkSafe BC, carries liability insurance and provides access to new home warranty packages.

Q: How does insurance work in the hiring of contractors?
A: When beginning any project, from a renovation to a new home, I would highly recommend discussing your project in detail with your insurance provider prior to starting. There are numerous options for insurance including “course of construction insurance,” “wrap up liability” policies and many more. New Home Warranty policies (2-5-10) are available on new builds only.

Q: What is the process of getting a project from the design stage to fruition once a contractor has been chosen?
A: If the client has completed the design phase, which should include all of the architect’s plans, structural engineering and specifications for the project as well as the proper building permits from the municipality of the build, the contractor can then provide a detailed budget as well as a proposed schedule for project. The process to completion is a team effort; the client, the architect and the contractor should be able to communicate effectively and cooperatively so that important milestones, that were outlined the schedule, are met and the contractor can fulfill the promises of that schedule. The scope and size of the project will have an affect on the time required for the overall project as well as each and every task that is listed in the schedule. There are many tasks that have predecessors and cannot be started until that task is completed. It is the contractor’s role to effectively schedule all of the tasks and trades according to the schedule.

Depending on the scope of the project you will likely need an interior designer, architect, various engineers and potential consultants. This can be a daunting process for most so Ideally you retain a builder that can walk you through this process step by step and refer the right people for the project. Some builders offer a build/design package which can be quite convenient. Another route is to approach the architect/designer first and once they have created your design/plans then you can tender this to numerous builders for budgeting.