Mike Holmes: It’s your own fault if the contractor you hire is a dud

Finding contractors through referral sites is a quick, easy fix — but that should just be the beginning of the research.

Mike Holmes, Postmedia News | January 27, 2015 | Last Updated: Jan 28 9:34 AM ET
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The Holmes GroupFinding contractors through referral sites is a quick, easy fix — but that should just be the beginning of the research.

I recently heard about a contractor who left a trail of half-demoed homes because his renovation company went belly up. His clients are mad, as are his crew and the sub trades. Unfortunately, this type of situation isn’t new.

What’s different about this case is the contractor was featured on a referral site — a website listing different service providers and accompanied by customer reviews.

Everyone wants to blame the contractor, the website and the positive reviews. Some people are even claiming the good reviews were fake. Did each one of those factors contribute to dozens of homeowners making bad decisions? Absolutely. But homeowners are responsible, too. They played the biggest part because they hired the guy, and if they had done just a little bit of digging they would have seen red flags.

For example, when a contractor asks for 30% of the total cost upfront, alarm bells should ring. No good contractor needs more than 10% to start a job, especially if all they’re doing is demo.

When you sign a contract with your contractor, it should have estimates of all the different materials and sub trades they will be using. But the only thing that first payment should be paying for is your contractor’s time, their crew’s time (labour) for demoing, and whatever else they might need for demo, such as disposal bins or special machinery.

If a demo gets underway and it turns out your home has hazardous material, such as asbestos or mould, which needs to be handled in a special way to remove it, that will cost extra. In that case, both you and your contractor sign off on it, and it’s clear as day why you’re paying more.

Any contractor that needs more than 10% of the job upfront needs cash fast. You have to ask yourself why a contractor would need a huge chunk of cash for work they haven’t started. Ask the contractor. It’s your money. You have every right to know what it’s buying.

Some contractors might tell you they need to order materials or do special custom work and that’s why they need 20% or 30% of the total cost upfront. Guess what?

Most good contractors won’t order materials until after demo because what you discover during demo can change everything.

The homeowners should have researched the referral site as well to determine how service providers get on there. Are they recommended by other pros in the industry? Does the website do background checks on them; inspect their work; speak to references; make sure they have a good track record, including financially? Who writes the reviews?

I don’t trust what I read. I trust what I see.

Referral sites can be good tools, but they are just a small part of the research. And I don’t care if a contractor has a million stellar reviews. The only ones I’ll believe are the ones for which I picked up the phone and spoke to the client myself, asked them 101 questions, and went to see their work.

One thing to keep in mind is that good, experienced contractors don’t need referrals. Maybe they do when they’re first starting out, but even then all they really need are a few good jobs under their belt, insurance, integrity and a network of pros they know and trust, and word gets around. Before they know it, they’re booked (at least) six months in advance.

We all want the easy way out, with quick fixes. But there are no short cuts to hiring the right professional, whether it’s a contractor, bricklayer, dentist or surgeon.

You have to do your homework. You can’t hand it off to anyone else, and especially not to a website. You are responsible because you’re the one on the hook if it all goes down the crapper.

Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit makeitright.ca.

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