So you want to choose a contractor? Great! There are many that would love to work for you. Unfortunately, there are probably even more that would love to part you and your money. So, how do you NOT play the fool?
There are four parts to choosing the contractor in Quebec:
Each will be discussed in turn below.
In the Province of Quebec, every contractor must hold a license from the Regie de Batiment du Quebec (RBQ), and be licensed for the appropriate categories of work. If the contractor uses salespeople that come to the home, the business needs to have a permit from the Office de Protection de Consommateur (OPC). Both require the company to have performance bonds which can be used by either office to repair work that the contractor carried out, but is not able or willing to repair. The following is a list of information a bidding contractor should be willing to supply, or show:
- RBQ License number, the categories licensed, and when the original license was issued.
- OPC permit number.
- APCHQ membership number.
- Full (corporate) name of the business (NOT the “doing-business-as” name).
- Address of the business.
- Sales Tax number for GST/TPS
- Sales Tax number for QST/TVQ
- Copy of their insurance policy cover sheet showing policy number and liability coverage.
- List of installs and references
- Names of the owner(s) of the business.
- Name of the crew chief or foreman who will be carrying out the installation work.
- If subcontractors to be used, identification of #1-11 above for each subcontractor.
Using the RBQ number on the RBQ web site ( https://www.rbq.gouv.qc.ca/services-en-ligne/registre-des-detenteurs-de-licence.html), you can determine the real name of the business, the business address and contact information, the name of the license holder(s), the categories of work for which the company is licensed, and the length of time the company has held the license.
Sometimes, businesses will “borrow” the name and RBQ number of a valid contractor, and put this name/number on the contract. However, this is at best disingenuous and at worse, fraudulent. The protections that the law provides the homeowners are directly related to the entity that signs the contract, and not to related parties. Therefore, the company signing the contract, if it is to perform any contracting work, must possess the license to be able to carry out such work.
The OPC permit number allows you do determine whether the company has a valid sales permit, and whether it has any customer complaints registered by the Office de Protection du Consommateur. See: (http://www.opc.gouv.qc.ca/en/information-merchant/)
The APCHQ ( http://www.apchq.com/) is a contractor association that, among other things, issues the bonds that the RBQ requires. It’s another place to determine if the contractor is in good standing.
Businesses often operate under a “business name” which is not the official name known to the regulators. If, for whatever reason, legal proceedings have to be initiated, then they must reference the official company name as known to the government.
If you have a salesman visiting you at the home, you often don’t know where the company is located, and if it has more than one location from which it operates. The company address given should correspond to the address associated with the RBQ license or to one of the owners of the company.
All companies are required by law to collect sales taxes on behalf of the government. For that purpose, they are issues tax account numbers which must be shown on any invoice or contract. In turn, these numbers can be looked up on the government web sites (such as the Revenu Quebec web site http://www.revenuquebec.ca/en/sepf/services/sgp_validation_tvq/default.aspx ) to verify that the company exists, has a valid set of numbers, and has an address that corresponds to the ones already mentioned previously.
Copies of the insurance coverage allow verification that the contractor has adequate insurance to cover any liabilities that they may incur as a result of working on site or on the customer’s behalf. It is another opportunity to verify that the company’s name and address correspond to the names and addresses listed on the license and permits.
The name of the owner of the business is useful to know, as this is the person(s) who is responsible for the contracted work, and for the promises made.
The name of the crew chief or foreman should be mentioned in the quote and whether they are employees or subcontractors. Shady companies often use the “bait and switch” method, where they present the work of a good crew in their references and marketing materials, but the people actually doing the work are a different crew or even a different company.
The list of installs and references is important to determine how much experience the company has in the field. It is very relevant to ask a company to highlight previous installs which are similar in scope and choice of materials to the one being quoted on. It is also relevant to ask to see the work of the crew that will be assigned to the project, going back at least five years.
If subcontractors are involved, then they too must, at the very least, have a valid RBQ number. In addition, the prime contractor must have clauses in their insurance covering work done by subcontractors.
To provide a “real” quote, a contractor needs to know what issues the house has that need to be taken into account. Good contractors know that homeowners generally are not fully aware of how their roof system works, and they know that not all the issues or deficiencies will be known to the homeowner. If the original request was to “replace the roof”, a good contractor knows that the other parts of the roofing system need to be checked as well. To develop the knowledge they need, contractors will conduct an inspection to establish the “ground truth”. These inspections are generally in two parts: interior and exterior.
The interior inspection requires access to the attic and crawl spaces. The contractor will look for the type and condition of the sheathing on the roof deck, the type of rafters, the presence of an adequate air channel from the soffits, the type and amount of insulation, evidence of water leakage or condensation, signs of rot and mold, and the appearance of the deck around penetrations, walls and chimneys. Yup. All of that. Good contractors will take pictures that they can use to show you what they found.
If leakage was one of the reasons that the contractor was called, he or she will also check the location and positions of the places where the leaks happened.
The exterior inspection should cover all or any of the following: access locations (for positioning of ladders or scaffolding), the roof itself, roof transitions, roof penetrations, state of the flashings, locations of the places where the roofing is excessively worn, evidence for ice damming, and other indicators that tell an experienced contractor what’s going on on that roof. The contractor will also check the type and extent of the soffit and/or gable vents. As with the internal inspection, a good contractor will document with photographs what they saw.
If the “contractor” is not willing to do either of these inspections, it means that they don’t really care what the issues are, because they will just do whatever they usually do, and leave the problems in place. And the homeowner is none the wiser. The amount of effort a contractor makes in determining the true state of affairs regarding the house is indicative of the effort they will spend on doing the work.
In Quebec, every contractor is obliged to give the quote in writing. However, there is tremendous variation in the quality of such quotes. They range from a single-page checklist form, to detailed descriptions of the work to be done and relate the specific issues to be corrected with the work and materials to be used to make these corrections. There are also other elements to the quote that signal whether the contractor is just trying to get a job, or is trying to meet your needs. Some of the things to look for:
- Is the company fully documented in terms of address, company name, contact information, licenses, permits, tax numbers, insurance coverage? If not, how will you be able to verify their legitimacy?
- Is the location of work properly described?
- Does the description of work to be done properly address the specific issues you are trying to resolve? Is there sufficient detail to allow you to detect if short-cuts are being taken?
- Are the materials to be used described in detail, and are the quantities indicated? If not, how will you know whether you’re getting the good stuff, or the cheap junk?
- What are the provisions for handling unexpected problems or issues? In any renovation, they always happen, so it makes sense to have the protocol of how to handle them and pay for them indicated BEFORE you have the surprise.
- What are the payment terms? Is there any provision for hold-backs? Are these defined points at which funds need to be disbursed?
- Does the quote indicate who will be doing the work? Are any subcontractors to be involved? Who will be in charge of the work-site (your place)?
- Are the warranties for both product and labour included? If not, why not? You need to know the fine print of these warranties, to be sure that you’re getting all the protection you’re entitled to.
- Is there any provision for inspection of work, so that you can verify (or have a third party verify) whether the work is being done according to manufacturer’s guidelines and trade standards?
As with the inspections, the amount of effort the contractor is willing to spend on preparing a detailed quote is usually indicative of the type of work they will be doing.
Contractors should supply a list of installs and references going back at least five years. They should also indicate to you which prior installations were similar to yours in terms of the type of issues being resolved, and the type of home or technical construction you have. They should be willing to supply you with the names and phone numbers of at least five of these former customers, so that you can call them up and ask them about the experience.
It really isn’t enough to do a “drive-by” of a prior install to determine whether the experience was satisfactory to the prior client. You need to talk with the client and ask some of the following questions:
- Did the contractor resolve the issues that they were hired to resolve?
- Did they carry out the work as promised, and did they explain any changes in the work scope in a satisfactory manner?
- Were there any issues that were not fully satisfactory?
- Were there any after-sale issues or requests for warranty repair? If so, how did the company handle these?
- Were the clients satisfied with the field supervision, the preparation, and the cleanup?
- Was there any damage done during the installation? If so, how was it handled?
- What was the behaviour of the work crew?
- If you were to do this all over again, what changes would you make in terms of hiring this contractor?
- How did you find this contractor in the first place, and why did you choose this contractor over others?
Checking the references will tell you a lot about the contractor who is submitting the quote. If everything is consistent, from the way the work was planned to the way it was finished, to your experience, then the chances are excellent that you will benefit from the same level of quality. If not… you may want to ask a few more questions, or even look elsewhere.
(c) 2013 Paul Grizenko
The links to various web-sites that would help validate the contractor are on the “Links” page, here: https://prsconsulting.wordpress.com/links-and-useful-information/