Finding a contractor
FINDING A CONTRACTOR WITH THE RIGHT FIT
agood man is hard to find. A good contractor, however, is almost impossible to find, and those who’ve got one try to keep it a secret and find new jobs to keep him or her on the payroll. If you’re persistent, these lucky homeowners might slip you a phone number. We’ve all heard horror stories about renovations gone bad, contractors going AWOL for days on end, even disappearing in the middle of the night with your hard-earned dollars. The popularity of TV shows like Holmes On Homes, featuring weepy homeowners pleading to be rescued from reno hell, don’t help dispel the idea that contractors are out to screw their helpless clients. Mike Holmes’s fairy-tale program, in which the hunky hero saves the day, is currently HGTV’s number-one show. He’s just signed a lucrative deal with Home Depot, and has hordes of fans.
GOOD CONTRACTORS ARE BUSY
There are honest and skilled contractors and tradesmen out there. You just have to ask around. “Every good contractor is already working,” says Steve Kane of Park Place Construction, who’s been in the business for 15 years. Kane, who’s never advertised, has projects lined up months ahead. He has a workshop where he undertakes larger jobs but can also set up shop on site. His aim is to do good work, get great results and satisfied clients. He isn’t going to get rich, but he’s happy with what he does. Less than three years ago, Ron Osborne left the corporate world as a building and construction company manager and decided to start his own renovation business, Home Bud. Osborne’s business has grown to the point where he now has several crews and trucks and is still looking to expand. Osborne, too, relies on repeat business and referrals and can barely handle more work. “I rarely advertise, because I get a surge of calls when I do,” he says.
eRENOVATE.COM TO THE RESCUE
For those of us who don’t know someone who knows someone, a new online service eliminates the middle man and the con artist. Called eRenovate.com, it’s designed to ease the process of finding a reputable contractor. The homeowner logs onto the site and registers at no cost; the job in question is posted; detailed questions are asked about each task; a questionnaire with budget information is filled out, including when you want the project started and completed. In a few days, the homeowner receives proposals from approximately five contractors. No personal information is given to the bidders at that point and no solicitation from contractors is allowed. Profiles of the contractors are provided, along with an overview of their work and testimonials from satisfied clients. Former clients post ratings of the contractors in categories like quality of work, timeliness, completion within budget and courteousness on the job. When the homeowner choses a contractor or bid, contact information is exchanged. “It’s virtual word-of-mouth for the contractor,” says managing director Tom Cordeiro. The former marketing expert is confident that eRenovate will be a huge success: “It’s a winwin situation for all. It’s cost-effective marketing for the contractor and reliable, guaranteed service for the homeowner.” Corderio developed the concept over two years, working with contractors, trade associations and members of the Greater Toronto Homebuilders Association.
REPUTABLE & RELIABLE POSTINGS
The response has been tremendous. In only three months, more than 400 projects have been posted, and the website has had 1.3 million hits. The numbers from the other side are just as impressive: 150 construction companies have come on board. Every contractor must have at least three years’ experience, insurance coverage, no Better Business Bureau complaints and sign a waiver agreeing not to sue or demand more money from the homeowner. The website has to make money somehow; ads cover the costs so far. Cordeiro’s moving into other provinces, aligning with major players such as Canadian House & Home and working on expanding to include design firms. There’s hefty interest from other countries, including the U.S. Yet despite the big numbers and positive feedback, both Kane and Osborne are skeptical. “I wouldn’t do it,” says Kane. He says it’s a dangerous practice to sign on for a job you haven’t looked at first. “This system doesn’t account for the variables that are always involved in any renovation.” Osborne also wouldn’t consider taking on a project he hadn’t inspected first. He can see the website working for smaller jobs or one-offs like replacing a faucet, but agrees that it’s dangerous to rely on it for more involved projects. “If you were asked to move a wall 6 inches, for instance, the project could be way more complicated than originally thought. What if you have to move wiring or relocate a drain pipe?” This handyman insists on excruciatingly detailed work orders and demands that both he and the client sign off on changes from the original plan. “I’ve never had any complaints this way, and I’d like to keep it that way.”