So you just bought a new place, and you didn’t pay too much attention during shop class, so you hire a contractor to do some work. But how do you avoid home reno nightmares?

Bill Greer, director of capital maintenance at Yukon Housing Corporation, shares some ideas.

First of all, the scope of a contractor’s job can vary greatly depending on the homeowner’s needs.

“The detail of his or her involvement is very individual,” Greer says. “It can be from changing a door, to building a house.”

He emphasizes the importance of having a written contract.

“If you want someone to build a house for you, you should have a contract with that person — the details, the timeline, what you expect them to do — all should be clearly laid out in the contract.”

When the contracted work is simple, verbal agreements may suffice, but the more complex the project, the more potential for things to go wrong.

“So if you clearly explain in writing what’s expected for the amount, and then they have a quoted amount, not an estimate… the less probability that something will go wrong somewhere through the project.”

Greer says that another big mistake new homeowners make is failing to investigate their contractor’s past work.

“They don’t contact previous clients, to see if they’re happy with this guy or not,” he says. “Sometimes they select someone who doesn’t have such a good track record, but they didn’t know it at that time, and they unfortunately find out the hard way.”

Greer suggests requesting your potential contractor’s last five job contacts to see if they’re satisfied with the work done.

Once you hire the contractor, if you see problems with the work address it immediately.

“If you see something going wrong, or not to your expectations, bring that up right away, and probably even stop work until it’s dealt with, until everyone’s on the same track, same understanding,” he says.

On the flip side, even for contractors who do ace the job, tipping is not standard practice. But if you really want to tip, Greer doesn’t discourage it.

Yukon Housing used to maintain a list of contractors in the 1990s, but it was scratched when it turned unwieldy. Though Greer recommends checking out Corporate Affairs for registered contractors as a starting point, he also says that whether or not your contractor is registered doesn’t really matter, except for electrical and structural work.

“Whether they’re certified or not isn’t a good indication as to the quality of their work,” says Greer. “The only true test to that is, again, the reference to past work.”

Information on building a new home can be found on the Yukon Housing website at www.housing.yk.caclick on “Building a New Home.”