Monday, March 25, 2013

Homestars - Contractor Review

So, I've posted a lot of DIY stuff so far... but there are things that no homeowner will probably never touch:

Gas Lines
Major Electrical (replacing a fuse/breaker panel)
Basement Water-proofing
Major Renovations

First of all, let me start out by saying I have only really contracted 2 people for my home.

As an I.T. Guy, I have worked with many vendors and contractors to get specialized jobs done, and this experience transferred to my hunting down qualified people to look/work at my new home.

First:  Figure out what you need.

Knowing what you want is an easy way to keep costs down. Everyone you call wants your money. They probably want more money than you want to give. In I.T. we call this "setting the scope". Focus what you want to achieve, and don't let the project blossom out of control - you'll end up over budget and blow your timelines as well.

Sometimes, you won't know what you need. this is where a contractors valuable advice comes in. Get as much advice as you can before you get a quote. Once you have that quote, Get a second opinion, and see if the advice and charge is roughly the same.

Second: Find the best of the best.

Whos the best?  Its probably not the person whos the cheapest, or the most expensive. I used a website called to figure this out. If they have a few years history, there's less worry of them closing up shop and stealing your money.

I used this criteria when looking:

  • In business Greater than 5 years
  • Positive reviews throughout ownership
  • Local - Within 10-15km preferred.
  • Has worked on larger projects than mine
  • Does not subcontract out.*

*A Note about Sub-Contracting:
Subcontracting is unavoidable in some cases. In the example of a big reno - you'll need a roofer, electrician  drywaller, Brick layer, etc... No one person does this all (legally, anyway))
What I mean by avoiding subcontractors: I want to avoid someone who says "yeah, I'll do your roof" and then just hires some college students to do it. I want a team of Full-Time, Dedicated roofers who have known each other and worked for the company for a while. It really helps with quality work.

Educate yourself - Be involved:

Hiring a contractor isn't like using a crockpot. You can't just set it and forget it. You need to be involved, and understand (at least a little bit) what they are doing. a GOOD contractor will want to educate you, and take pride in their work and show you what they are doing and are going to do. Knowing at least a little bit will let you know if you're being fleeced or not. is useful because angry people are very vocal. If a company isn't listed on homestars, its probably a brand new company. You'll always get negative reviews - some people are just impossible to please. However, Read into the reviews - The contractor always has the ability to reply to a complaint. (like E-bay feedback!) and it really gives you the feeling of "what kind of company" you would be dealing with.

I've only used two contractors so far, and will be replacing my roof in the next year or so.

Here is how I found them:

  • I went to google maps, and focused around my neighbourhood.
  • I googled the service I was looking for: "Electrician" 
  • I then started looking at reviews of each place near by.
  • I found a few, and called them up. Those that actually answered the phone or called me back quickly got brownie points.
  • When I got a warm body on the phone, I pumped them for information. They at first asked me questions I wasn't prepared for - a good sign on their part, Poor planning on my part. "How many breakers in your panel? What amp service? How many 240 volt lines? etc.
  • One of them even asked if I could e-mail them a picture of the breaker box - I was impressed. They were willing to come on site if they needed - (for free, to give a quote) but my photos were plenty enough info for them.
  • I asked about all of the potential costs (maximum), and what the costs would most likely be. No surprises then. I called a few other companies, and did get cheaper quotes, but most seemed "too busy" to answer my questions, or didn't ask me any questions "yeah, sure we can do it."

So I had my Top 3 choices based on how they treated me on the phone/e-mail, and then searched Homestars. The feedback really did match how I felt about the three companies. My preferred contractor had all positive reviews, and I could see they had clearly tackled much larger projects, so I knew they were capable:

The same was for my Building inspector. He wasn't local, but was the nicest guy I could find. Very well educated, and plenty of experience, with up to date technology at his disposal, and again a gleaming record on homestars. In fact, only recently has he gotten his first "negative" feedback, and quickly replied to it to settle the situation. (its unfortnuate as it got rid of his perfect "10" rating.)

So Recap: When looking for a contractor:

  1. Figure out what you want
  2. Educate yourself on the subject
  3. Call contractors
  4. Get Quotes
  5. Check reviews/feedback
  6. Hire your contractor
  7. Stay involved.
  8. Don't pay for it all until the job is done. 
  9. Leave feedback on so others (like me!) can learn from your experiences :-)

Hope this helps!


  1. Great info Alex - even for long-time homeowners as we're the ones who often have to tackle the big projects too (like new roofs, etc)

  2. You got a really useful blog I have been here reading for about an hour. I
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