There are basically 3 kinds of contractors; those who do all the work themselves, those who subcontract low paid workers, and those who subcontract licensed skilled trades people.
When people talk about issues they have had with their contractor, it’s important to ask which type of contractor they hired, and recognize they should not all be painted with the same brush.

Take a bathroom reno, for example. It requires several skilled trades despite the fact that the room is small. At the very least a plumber, an electrician, a drywaller, a tiler, a painter…sometimes carpentry, HVAC or more. In the case where the contractor does all the work themselves, we have all heard the expression, ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. The same goes for unlicensed and unvetted workers. Licensed trades vetted by a high quality contractor bring in-depth product knowledge, effective troubleshooting and proper installation, so that the end result looks like it should, functions properly, and will stand up to regular use.

That local handyman who says he knows how to do all the parts of your bathroom reno may not be lying. He may have shoddily renovated many bathrooms before yours. Anyone can buy a sheet of drywall and put it on your wall. Except there is a lot more to it than that and there is a reason drywalling is a skilled trade. Having an inexpert drywaller do your bathroom will almost always result in faulty installation and inferior product choices that will quickly lead to mould and leaks, not to mention uneven walls, dips and cracks, and problems with everything that goes on top of the drywall, including your paint and tiles. We get calls every week from people asking us to come redo bathrooms they recently renovated because they tried to save money on their contractor. Within 2 years their bathrooms are black with mould or leaking into their kitchen. These people end up spending far more in the end than if they had had the job done properly the first time.

When you are doing any kind of structural work like underpinning or removing a structural wall, a contractor that says you do not need permits is a major red flag. Permits are inexpensive but the drawings can cost thousands, so these guys will say you don’t need it in order to get you to hire them, and you’re happy thinking they are saving you money. What they are actually doing is opening the door to improper work, compromising the structure of the building, and telling you at the outset that they do not care about the safety of your home, the quality of their work or what happens after they leave. Having permits and a structural engineer involved on a project will buy you peace of mind knowing that liability is on the engineer, and a building inspector is reviewing the contractor’s work at several milestones along the way to ensure everything is done properly. Finally, having a permit on file when you sell your home adds value because there is now a public record that the renovation meets or exceeds building code.

So how can you avoid hiring one of those contractors people are always complaining about?
It’s simple. The red flags are always there – don’t ignore them. Renovations cost a lot of money. They are complex puzzles with many moving parts, and they require highly skilled experts to execute. If you can’t afford a reno, don’t do one until you can afford it, or do one room at a time properly. If you choose to ignore red flags and hire a contractor based on a cheap price, you are setting yourself up for one of those nightmare situations you have heard about. You get what you pay for, and there is no way around this.

An above-board contractor will have plenty of positive reviews online. They will be knowledgeable, experienced and have processes in place to track costs and changes as they arise so there are no surprises at the end. They will be transparent in explaining their cost structure as well as potential problems they foresee and contingency plans. They will have relationships with quality suppliers who stand behind their products and high calibre trades who are also knowledgeable and experienced. They will also have a contract – for your protection and theirs.

Unfortunately most people want their dream reno on far too small a budget, and very few realize just how much the custom finishings they see in magazines actually cost. So if your contractor is saying yes at the outset to everything you want at a price that sounds great to you without digging deeper into the costs of your finishings, this is probably also a red flag.

In conclusion, there are ways to save money on a renovation, but hiring a contractor who is rife with red flags is not one of them. See next week’s post for more tips on how to save when doing a renovation and what to never skimp on!