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David Sacks

My husband and I are blessed in many ways. We have our health, wonderful children, fulfilling jobs and a beautiful home.

We have something else that many people would kill for: a contractor in the family.

Over the years we have renovated a vast majority of our aging Toronto home. Not because we are flush with cash, but because we needed to accommodate our growing family. With every renovation, my brother has turned out to be worth his weight in gold.

On the heels of a housing boom, Canadians are renovating in record numbers, pouring thousands of dollars into upgraded kitchens, bathrooms, basements and decks.

Not everyone has the luxury of having a renovator they trust at their fingertips. And given that my facebook account is packed with people looking for good contractors, it made me wonder where other people find theirs.

Natalie Scollard-Wear and her husband are in the process of renovating the kitchen of their forty-year-old Calgary townhouse. They hired a contractor to put in 320 square feet of new floor, new baseboards, a new tile backsplash, a new countertop, a new kitchen sink and faucet. They also asked him to improve their space by moving the kitchen island.

Ms. Scollard-Wear says she found her contractor by chance. "First I saw a truck driving by with the name of the company. Then I saw a news article in the Calgary newspaper about a good deed, where this contractor was building a home for a less fortunate family."

Ms. Scollard-Wear, who works for the Real Estate Council of Alberta, checked the contractor's rating on the Better Business Bureau before having him come out to give her an estimate. She spent hours combing through the BBB website, a process she described as "frustrating," and got quotes from two other contractors. She did not go with the cheapest contractor, but rather the one who felt most trustworthy and allowed them the most flexibility.

Part of the challenge in finding someone, she said, was that she and her husband budgeted about $15,000 for their project, which many contractors dismissed as too small a job.

According to a survey by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., Canadians spent $25.8-billion on home renovations in 2009, with the average project costing about $12,100.

The CMHC has an excellent website with tips for how to find and choose a contractor, what questions to ask them during an interview, how to get written estimates and a sample contract.

So how do people who are not related to a contractor find one? Here are few ideas:

1) Word of mouth Ask your friends, family and neighbours. Referrals are a great way to find someone. If a person you know and trust is happy with their work, chances are you will be too.

2) Signs in your neighbourhood This is another good way to find contractors who work in your area. When walking, biking or driving in your neighbourhood, keep an eye peeled for renovators' signs on front lawns.

3) Through your real estate agent or architect Sometimes people in the real estate business will be able to recommend someone you can get in touch with about home renovations. Similarly, if you used an architect to design your new space they might be able to suggest renovators for you to interview.

4) The Internet There are a number of websites people looking to renovate can check out. They include, and, among others.

5) Better Business Bureau Check with the BBB to see how the contractors in your area stack up. This is a great place to find out whether customers have had problems with them, as well as whether they are accredited and insured.

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