Most people don’t consider themselves to be gamblers when it comes to their largest investment. Your home is where you raise your children, you celebrate life, families gather together, you laugh, you cry…it is a sacred place. It is also a place, like anything else, that requires work and maintenance from time to time. When the time comes to do large repairs or maintenance it only makes sense to ask around and see who is good at what they do and to see who is reasonably priced. Why..? Because we do not want to be taken advantage of. We want to get a fair price for a service that we need for our sacred home. It is here where people make different decisions for different reasons. What are you looking for in a contractor? Is license and insurance important? Are clear communication and reasonably quick response times important? Are reputation and good work history with customers important? What will be the criteria you use to choose your contractor? You know the work needs to be done, the only question is who you will trust to do it. Let me give you a few things to consider the next time you are in the market for home repairs.
Pricing is important only after you define the scope of work to be performed. Many times we think like this; “I need to get our bathroom remodeled because it is out of date. I wonder what it will cost?” Fair question…but the only way to properly answer that question is to have a professional out to your home and ask him questions of your own. What kind of vanity do you want, faucets, glass shower or built in with shower curtain, what kind of waterproofing under the shower tile, what type of flooring, ceramic tile, linoleum, travertine, marble, what about more storage for towels and toiletries? The list goes on and on. Before you can effectively set your budget you need to know what you are asking of a contractor in the way of expensive materials, difficult installations, custom order products. Once you have what you are looking for nailed down, we can now talk budget. Set the budget with an overage range (with you and your partner) and solicit bids until you find the contractor you trust that checks all of the boxes you need together.
What makes a contractor credible and worthy of your trust? I can help…they need to have a proven track record. Dave Ramsey says, “the indicator of future performance is past performance.” If the contractor you are looking for has a good history with customers, a history of resolving challenges and disagreements in a way that benefits everyone, then that is a great start. Contractors are the most distrusted type of profession in America, based on a past Harvard study. Is that a surprise to anyone? People would rather deal with lawyers and politicians rather than a contractor, and the number one reason cited for this was the lack of communication. No communication leads to distrust in people. Make sure your contractor not only has good work history and reviews but also communicates well. If he or she does not call you back (or text) in a reasonably amount of time, do you really want them handling your home renovation? It matters. One last thing I would consider as a critical trait of a good contractor is: do they listen to you, and how well? It is YOUR home and it is YOUR money you will be spending for YOUR renovation. You have every reason to be heard when it comes to style and design. I once had an older contractor share this with me: he said “If a customer (the boss) wants a hammer thrown through the window, the only question I have is WHICH window”? That is wisdom… find a contractor who will listen to your opinion and not try and sell you something you do not want because they may have a rebate for selling that product. It is YOUR home, so find a contractor who is credible and can be trusted. It may not matter if things go well, but trust me, construction is NOT an industry where things go well all the time. Things change, work scopes change, you find unseen challenges when you begin taking things apart and that can bring stress… so find the people to work with who will partner with you and not use you as their own personal ATM machine.
Price is only PART of the decision
3. Price is only a part of the decision. Please DO NOT miss this point. If you are having a large renovation project done to your home, you must consider the workmanship factor! Not all lawyers are of the same caliber and quality. You ALWAYS get what you pay for. Would you rather have lawyer with a degree from Stanford or Yale with a background in your case or a community college educated lawyer? Look, if you choose the lawyer that picked up his suit at Party City on the way to the courtroom that morning, I think it is safe to say you are not going to fare well with the judge. This is no different than choosing a contractor. When you consider who to choose make sure you consider other factors than price…does your contractor have an accountability factor in place? One of the things I have witnessed first hand is when a sales person makes a sale they promise the moon, then when the installers show up they often times come alone with no supervision, no scope of work (you discussed in detail with the sale person) and no communication skills… This can put you in a stressful situation where you thought you were getting one thing and the installers have a completely different idea of what needs to be done. All of a sudden, you can’t reach the sales person and the company has a phone line that goes directly to voicemail. There should be some kind of pre-start check list you go over with your contractor or their sub, in-person with the salesman is an extreme bonus. There also should be a level of accountability and supervision on the job at least the check the status as the project moves along. At the very least, you should have your contractor perform a final walk through inspection with you to verify you are happy and that there was nothing missed that you may have paid for. If so, you can take care of those concerns with a face to face visit for that final inspection. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is always right on…if your gut tells you to walk away, then trust your gut.
Things go wrong. Plan for them on the front end.
In all the years that i have been a contractor I have heard many horror stories. I have heard of sub contractors showing up to a customers home because they were not paid for the work they did there. I have had customer call me and tell me that another contractor had put a lien on their home asking “what they should do”? I have witnessed people have to remove a 2 year old roof ($11,000) because it was installed with no supervision and was in terrible condition and couldn’t be salvaged. I have witnessed contractors leave a home open (bare wood exposed on walls) for months at a time during the rainy season and the customer was at the mercy of the contractor since he already had spent a large amount with them and couldn’t afford to pay someone else to put it back together. I’ve also seen the wrong material be installed and the contractor would not fix the problem. I have even known of situations where a customer was sued because of the contractors lack of insurance and an injury occurred… These are just a few situations we have either experienced or discussed over the past 25 years. The point is to be aware and realize that not every contractor is a bad contractor nor is every contractor honorable and will do the right thing. Have the hard conversations up front because having them at the end of the job is always more expensive.
I hope these tips have helped you to look closer the next time you have a home renovation. Even better if they end up saving you money.