How to Hire for a Renovation
Whether you’re preparing your home for sale or making it more liveable for yourself, take the time to find the right people to ensure your renovation is a success.
Illustrations by Ethan Rilly
Renovations can be stressful at the best of times. But the consequences of a bad renovation hire can range from being disappointed with your paint colour to being involved in lengthy court battles or even being unable to sell or live in your home. No one needs that. From hiring a handyman to selecting a contractor, we’ve pulled together a list of tips on how to safely put your home into someone else’s hands.
Who does what?
Figuring out who you need to hire is the first step. There are a lot of professionals, trades and craftspeople for hire and the type of project you are doing will direct the expertise you need, but it is not always that straightforward.
Architects can provide interior design advice and interior designers often decorate or act as general contractors. There is a good deal of overlap in the expertise each professional can bring. Understanding the typical training for each profession can help you choose the right mix for your project.
Architects are trained to design and construct buildings and public spaces of any size and material. They prepare briefs, sketches and cost estimates, produce scaled construction drawings, write specifications and review on-site construction work. They generally require seven years of post-secondary education and training, as well as ongoing licensing through the Alberta Association of Architects.
Interior designers address general and often detailed interior planning, spatial arrangements, health and safety issues, constructability and considerations like lighting and acoustics, in addition to the aesthetics of a space. They generally require four years of post-secondary education and ongoing licensing and certification.
Decorators, specialists and stylists are trained by education and experience to create spaces that function well and improve quality of life. They address colour and product selections, planning for specific spaces, fabrics and window coverings, as well as lighting. They are not licensed, but membership in professional associations is limited to those who meet the standards of the organization.
General contractors take on the overall planning, organization, control and evaluation of a construction project. Contractors are licensed by the City of Calgary, and, if they collect deposits on the work to be done on your home, they must also hold a provincial Prepaid Contractors Licence. You can check that they do on the Service Alberta website.
Trades are experts in planning and carrying out all aspects of their skill area such as cabinetmaking, electrical, plumbing, tile setting or gas fitting. In Alberta, designated trades are regulated by the Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act.
Where to find the pros
Professional associations are a great way to connect with local members who have met the organization’s standards for practice. Many have codes of conduct and want to hear about members that are not adhering. There are also established referral websites that let you check reviews and see photos.
Some places to start your search:
The Alberta Association of Architects
Interior Designers of Alberta
Canadian Decorators’ Association
Canadian Homebuilders’ Association
National Kitchen and Bath Association
Better Business Bureau
How to interview the pros
The first part of that process is interviewing the people you are hiring. The best way to prepare yourself for interviews is to know what you hope to accomplish in your renovation. If you don’t, it’s worth paying a professional to help you define the scope of work so you can compare offerings.
There are some easy-to-spot signs that the professional you are interviewing may not work out. Donna Moore, chief executive officer for the Canadian Home Builders’ Association – Calgary Region, has some basic advice for those looking to undertake a renovation: “Hire a professional. Look at their work. Get lots of recommendations. Be realistic and understand that it’s going to be a time-consuming and long process.”
Donna Moore’s advice on interview warning signs
“I can start next week.”
Once you’ve made the decision to tackle a project, the temptation to get going can be strong. “Professional renovators are in high demand and you’re going to have to wait,” says Moore. “That’s probably a good thing.” The contractor that can start next week is usually available for a reason.
“I don’t use a contract.”
Contracts protect both the consumer and the person supplying services because they make the terms of service clear. “Have the details in the contract,” says Moore. “I can’t say that enough.” Give a hairy eyebrow to anyone who will not document the work to be done.
“I need all the money up front.”
Deposits are necessary in order for work to begin and to purchase materials, secure service providers and to place product orders. However, you should be able to see a correlation between the deposit and the schedule of work. “In most cases, there will be a deposit,” says Moore. She recommends having a schedule of payments outlined in the contract. “When the floor is complete, for example, then you’re going to pay X amount of dollars.”
“We can skip the permit.”
The City of Calgary permit process is in place to protect consumers and ensure a minimum standard of safety. You need a permit for a wide range of residential improvement projects. They cover everything from demolition to plumbing, electrical and gas fitting work to final occupancy. If in doubt, a quick call to the City’s information line, 3-1-1, can verify what is necessary.
The cheapest quote.
Home renovations can feel expensive, but a quote that is dramatically lower than any other bid may signal a lower-quality product, or inexperience on the part of the renovator. Resist the siren song of the sale.
10 questions to ask in an interview
1. What is your experience on a project like mine?
2. Who will do the work on my project?
3. How will you communicate with me about progress and delays?
4. What is your process for managing the budget and any deficiencies?
5. How do you charge for your services?
6. Can I see a copy of your insurance and your workers’ compensation?
7. Can I visit a current job site with you?
8. How and when do you pay your suppliers?
9. What licences and certifications do you hold?
10. Can I have three references?
The evaluation checklist
1. Holds current licences, insurance and certifications for the services provided.
2. Has experience with a project of comparable scope.
3. The level of quality in previous work meets your needs.
4. Has provided a minimum of three references for their work (and you’ve checked the references).
5. Offers a clearly worded warranty.
6. Has a clear contract.
What should it cost?
It is worth remembering that you are paying for access to all of the education, certifications and experience of your chosen professional, not just for the materials that go into your home. What may take you days could be an hour of work for them. Be sure you understand the fee structure and schedule being used and that you see its value to you.Professionals charge for their services in different ways. Some bill on an hourly basis and some charge a flat fee based on the total project cost or a price per square foot. Most charge margins on the goods and services they supply. General contractors: eight to 20 per cent on the cost of materials. Architects, designers and decorators: $50 to $500 an hour.
There is no substitute for doing your homework, but the best way to protect your home is to ensure all necessary permits are in place. Many people don’t realize that if a final occupancy permit is not issued on a building project, you are not legally entitled to inhabit your home, and your property may not be eligible for insurance.
“First off, understand the scope of work that is proposed,” says Ross McDougall, chief building inspector at the City of Calgary. The City maintains a system to administer permits so that minimum safety codes are met and to maintain oversight and compliance with local land use bylaws. “It’s not that easy to be your own contractor,” McDougall adds. “If you have the time, you can certainly do it, and we’re here to help.”
More than 8,500 residential improvement permits were issued in Calgary in 2014 and they cover everything from basement developments and decks to additions. There are many online resources available to understand the permits and process required and easy access to experts whose role is to respond to telephone inquiries.
“We have a group called the Technical Assistance Centre, or TAC,” says McDougall. “They are electrical inspectors, plumbing and gas inspectors and building inspectors that man the phones daily, and they are there strictly for technical questions and anything related to building, and electrical, plumbing and gas.”
You can reach TAC through the City’s website, calgary.ca, or by calling 3-1-1 and asking to be redirected.