How to Tell a Good Contractor from a Bad One

How to Tell a Good Contractor from a Bad One

Construction is complex. Hiring a good contractor shouldn’t be.

One of the biggest and most expensive decisions many of us will ever make, whether in our personal or professional lives, involves construction. We might be building our dream home, adding an extension on to a corporate facility, or even working with a volunteer organization to build a new curling rink. In any case, there are innumerable decisions that must be made. So much must be considered.

How will the project be financed? Who will design it? What design elements need to be prioritized? How will the space be used functionally? What building materials and/or products will you require for your specifications? Who will operate the space, and have you considered the costs and work involved in operation and maintenance in your financing, design, and construction plans? These are just a few of the many questions we are confronted with when considering a new build.

It can be overwhelming. Especially if you’re not an expert in construction.

The best place to start is to find yourself an expert.

If only it were that easy.

We live in a DIY culture where everyone who has watched a YouTube video thinks they can build a house. There is no law in Saskatchewan that requires someone calling themselves a contractor to be licensed by any professional body or to have taken any training. In practice, anyone can present themselves as a construction expert and sell their “services” to the unsuspecting public.

The unfortunate consequence of this situation is that a handful of swindlers sully the reputation of an industry full of reliable, affordable, and effective professional contractors. For every shady contractor there are at least nine great ones, but it isn’t always easy for people to tell the difference.

Fortunately, the Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA) is here to help. If planned and designed well—which you can do by working with registered design professionals like architects or engineers—construction projects should usually be completed on time and on budget. Don’t laugh. It’s true.

Far too often, not enough time or money is spent in the planning and design phase. Instead, someone gets a quote and ploughs ahead. But getting a project right starts by getting the planning and design phase right. Don’t skip this step. Ever.

A good contractor will ask you lots of questions before they give you a quote. They’ll want to understand your project, and the outcomes you’re hoping to achieve with the project. They’ll want to understand your vision and be sure that you have the design and specifications to make that vision a reality. Ideally, they should be a partner of yours early in project planning.

As a good partner—your contractor should have no problem discussing their credentials, safety record, business workload (the number/size of the projects they’re working on) and provide references. It’s part of the business.

Another thing a good partner won’t do is offer a lower price for cash. The moment a contractor does this you should be alarmed – under the table jobs are rarely managed by the books and if someone gets hurt on your project when their WCB premiums haven’t been paid, you are 100% liable. It’s not worth it.

Without contractor registration in Saskatchewan, you’re responsible for making sure you employ a reputable contractor. While there is no airtight guarantee to protect you, the SCA’s experience suggests that you’re looking for the following qualities in a good contractor:

  • Honest and ethical—Will they do what they say they will? Can you trust them? Get references from your contractor and ask to speak to their sub-contractors and suppliers too.
  • Experienced—Does the contractor have experience doing the specific type of work you need them to do? What is their track record? Ask them for details and ask to speak to references from similar projects.
  • Safe—Does the contractor comply with all relevant safety rules? At a minimum you should ask the contractor to provide proof that they are registered with WCB (ask for a clearance letter). You should ask the contractor to provide you with a copy of their safety manual. You should look to do work with companies that are COR certified. This is an industry minimum standard for reliably safe work. Don’t hesitate to ask the company if they have any recent health and safety incidents or claims and consider checking yourself. If someone is injured on your project and the company isn’t properly registered, you are liable. Don’t take this risk!
  • Financial capable—Can the contractor afford to complete this work and pay all of their bills? Is the contractor properly insured? Ask for evidence of their insurance and talk to a few of their sub-contractors to find out if they are prompt in paying their bills.
  • Capable workforce—Does the contractor have employees or sub-contractors that can deliver the work needed on the project? Are their tradespeople certified apprentices or journeypersons? Certification isn’t required for all trades, but it is for some. Ask questions about the capability and training of the individuals who will be working on your site.
  • Lawabiding—Is the contractor compliant with all relevant legislation? Make sure they’re familiar with and abiding by labour laws, safety standards, and tax requirements. Ask them for their PST registration number, and make sure you’re paying the right taxes on your bills.
  • Engaged in their community—This is a key indicator that a contractor is reliable, although it is softer and less obvious than some of the others listed here. If a contractor is invested in their community, and supports local groups, that tells you that they care about the community and their reputation. That matters. Ask the contractors how they support their local community and do some digging to verify this.

These are a lot of factors to consider but doing your due diligence before signing with a contractor is essential to success. If you want to look back on your building project with happy memories, make sure you work with a reputable contractor. It is worth the time and effort on the front end of the process when your project is done—on time, on budget, and without headaches for you.