Reno Expert: Good Help Wanted

Reno Expert: Good Help Wanted

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Reno Expert: Good Help Wanted

by Jim Caruk

How to find a reliable contractor

Good workers are hard to find. I know this from trying to hire and hold onto good crew-members for my team. But I know that homeowners also struggle to find trustworthy contractors who are available to do the job.

One of the main reasons homeowners have a hard time finding a good contractor is that they leave it too late. The best contractors are booked weeks or months in advance. If you’re trying to find a fence or deck builder and you start making calls in April, I’d wonder what’s wrong with the guy who says he can get started right away. Larger projects can require structural and architectural drawings, building permits, and so on, all of which take time to pull together before you can break ground. You’ve got to plan ahead.


Word-of-mouth referrals are generally the best way to find a good contractor. But don’t just ask your friend or family member if they’re happy with the finished result. If they have gone through the renovation process from start to finish and had a good experience, they can also forewarn you of any hiccups along the way. What time of day do they start? Who’s the contact person on-site? What’s the best way to stay in touch— phone, text, email?



Today, many tech-savvy contractors are using Instagram to showcase their best work. You can use the free app to find both inspiring ideas and qualified contractors who can do the work.

Photography courtesy of Instagram
Photography courtesy of Instagram


The number one tip for finding a trustworthy contractor: stay away from guys who want to make cash deals. I know as well as anybody that many contractors will take on small “side” projects for cash under-the-table. The biggest blight on my industry though are the guys we call “fly-by-nighters.” They demand a hefty deposit upfront, do a bit of shoddy work, then disappear to never be seen again. Fly-by-nighters never use contracts.

From the homeowner’s perspective, there are several very good reasons why you should demand a written contract. For one, without any paperwork, you’re opening up yourself to disputes about what was supposed to be included with the job and what would be considered extras. For larger projects, the contract will also spell out timelines for completion and a schedule of payments so there are no surprises.

You’ll also need signed contracts and receipts in order to apply for any government or supplier rebates. And your warranty is pretty much useless without any receipts confirming the date of installation and who did the work.

If none of your word-of-mouth referrals pan out, there are a few modern options for finding contractors that come with recommendations.


Many of my colleagues are on websites such as Homestars, where owners provide feedback on services provided, or apps like eRenovate that verify a contractor’s licensing and insurance before they’re listed.

I’ve been a long-time member of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. One of their more successful programs is RenoMark. Contractors who carry the RenoMark label have certified that they will follow a code of ethics, have all the required licences and permits to do the job, and will provide at least two years’ warranty on their labour. Learn more about the program at

The CHBA also developed the “Get It In Writing” program, which further explains the benefits of written contracts. You can learn more about that at

Photography courtesy of Margaret Mulligan
Photography courtesy of Margaret Mulligan
Jim Caruk, Renovation Editor

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