Find­ing a con­trac­tor


NOW Magazine - Toronto Living - - Front Page - By Meaghan Clark

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.


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.


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 eRen­o­, 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.


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.”

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