When you hire a contractor to renovate your home, you are going to spend a lot of time with him and his crew, and even longer with the final work. Choosing the right contractor is critical.

Michael Gough of the Canadian Home Builders Association says homeowners want to know the project will be done properly, on time and at the agreed-upon price.

The best way to ensure that is to get a contractor you can trust. Check with friends and family for recommendations. Your local Home Builders Association will have a list, or look at ads and the phone book.

“When you locate contractors based only on advertisements, you need to take extra care to get and follow up on references,” Gough cautions. Get at least three past-customer references — and call them.

“Some consumers wonder about the value of contractor-provided customer references, assuming they won’t be given the names of dissatisfied customers,” says Gough. “While there is certainly some truth to this, don’t underestimate what you can learn about a contractor, even when talking with satisfied customers.”

Next up is the interview stage. Get your contractor’s history: How long she’s been in business, her experience doing jobs like yours, how her company operates (for example, do they have their own staff or regular subcontractors?) and get a ballpark estimate on the cost and time.

“If you find you are not comfortable talking with them, or they are not able to answer your questions adequately, they are probably not the right contractor for you,” advises Gough. “Don’t hire them.”

When you’ve got your contractor, check for proof of business liability insurance, Workers’ Compensation coverage or equivalent accidental injury insurance, proof of bonding and/or licensing and proof of proper business registration. Why? If you’ve got a fly-by-night operation not properly insured and it goes wrong, you’re on the hook.

“What would happen if someone you hired accidentally damaged your property or the property of one of your neighbours? Or if someone was injured? Your contractor could end up costing you money,” Gough says.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation warns it can take two to three weeks for a contractor to prepare an estimate. Make sure the contractor provides you with a construction schedule before work starts, so you have a clear idea how things will unfold, it says.

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