A Homeowner’s Guide to Creating a Successful Relationship With Your Contractor
There are tons of websites and consumer advocacy groups dedicated to informing the public about shady contractors, offering tips on finding reputable ones, and dispensing advice on what to do if you’ve been scammed by a less-than-reputable contractor. But there’s not a lot of talk out there about homeowners who’ve created a less-than-friendly job site for their contractor. Shady homeowners, you say? Believe it or not, they’re out there. Just ask a contractor. He could probably tell you a story or two.
Nightmare on Contractor Street
Ever hear of the homeowner who asked her contractor to revise their invoice to her exact specifications, then take five weeks to pay the bill? Or the couple who was sent a quote for some work, and then came out of the woodwork two years later wanting the contractor to do the work and oh yeah, wanted the contractor to hold the price? Or the malicious guy who, after the contractor gave him everything promised in the contract, tried to hold the contractor for breach of contract and thought yelling obscenities at the top of his lungs would intimidate the contractor into confessing a falsehood? These are all true stories.
And you thought some contractors were bad…
Seriously though, there are bad contractors out there who make false claims as to the performance of a material, try to sell you things you don’t need in order to make a few extra bucks, flat out lie about their skills and experience, or simply disappear mid-project. It’s unfortunate that a few baddies have given the whole construction/remodeling industry a black eye and a bad reputation. Because really, there are way more reputable contractors than shysters out there, despite the horror stories you might have heard about the glut of shady characters polluting the construction industry.
And most times, shady contractors are silent deal breakers-they take without asking, they disappear without telling, and they lie without announcing their fibs. Shady homeowners, on the other hand, are loud with their complaints, fly off the handle when they think they’ve been stiffed, or say and do bizarre things in order to get out of paying the bill. What’s an honest, hard-working, legit contractor to do when faced with such a formidable customer? Not much, especially when the saying is, “The customer is always right.”
Don’t be a shady homeowner: Let us show you the way
Now, there may be some situations that are innocent enough, but because of miscommunication, or non-communication, or whisper-down-the-lane, may be misconstrued as one party trying to take advantage of the other party. It happens. So to avoid that, following is a guide for homeowners on how to create a successful relationship with a contractor.
Tip #1 – Don’t ask for quotes if you’re not serious about moving forward
Think long and hard about the project you have in mind before contacting contractors for quotes. Is this something you have the time, energy, and money to tackle in the coming weeks or months? If not, consider putting the project on hold until the time is right for you. Here’s why: whether you’re a returning customer or a new client, most contractors will jump through hoops to get you a comprehensive quote in a timely fashion. That’s because most contractors are ready, willing and able to continue an existing relationship or establish a new one. What company wouldn’t? So if you go into the quoting process intending to not follow through and not have the work done, it’s a waste of the contractor’s time-and yours. The time the contractor spent on a quote for the project you don’t intend to start is time he could’ve spend on a quote for someone who is serious about moving forward-either with him or another contractor. Either way, a contractor wants to know if a signed contract is on the way or a “Thanks for your time, but I’ve chosen someone else.”
Bottom Line: It’s okay to tell a contractor you’ve chosen someone else. Honestly. They can take it. They wouldn’t be in the remodeling business if they couldn’t deal with rejection. Besides, contractors want closure just like anyone else. Let them know so they can move on.
Tip #2 – If you don’t know how much something costs, it’s okay to admit it-and then ask for a ballpark first
It’s understandable that sometimes things cost more than you thought they would. A large gourmet kitchen with the latest and greatest appliances? We all know that’ll cost a bundle. An addition on the back of your house? Yeah, you can kind of anticipate that being costly too. But installing insulation in your home? Not a lot of homeowners know the cost of something like that. That’s especially true with spray foam insulation because it’s still a relatively new product in the residential market. Sticker shock is sometimes par for the course-and a potential deal breaker. To avoid that, ask the contractor if he can give you a ballpark figure first, based on information you provide or a site visit. (It’s okay to admit that you don’t know how much something costs. Really. Reputable contractors will educate you, rather than take advantage of that fact.)
Every contractor is different, so depending on what type of work you’re having done, a ballpark can be done over the phone or during a walk-through. That’ll let the contractor know that you’re interested, but not to work on a formal, written proposal just yet because your decision to move forward might ultimately come down to price. And that’s okay. If you can’t afford something, you can’t afford something. A contractor will actually be thankful that you didn’t waste too much of his time on something that you simply won’t be able to afford in the long run. Of course, it’s also the responsibility of the contractor to educate the homeowner upfront about the available options to put things in perspective, so that sticker shock doesn’t set in too late or that price isn’t the only reason you walked if it’s something you can afford but are hesitant to purchase. And if you take the next step and ask for a formal proposal in writing, keep in mind during the decision-making process that choosing the cheapest contractor can backfire on you.
Tip #3 – If you’re not a chef, stay out of the kitchen
There’s no easy way to say it, so let’s just put it out there: If you’re not the primary decision maker, kindly stay out of the equation. Couples shop together and make joint decisions about purchases. But at some point during the process, usually during installation, one person in the couple assumes the responsibility of being the point of contact with the contractor. Just like contractors have project managers that oversee projects, one person within the couple becomes the project manager for the homeowner team-the person in charge of representing the couple, making decisions on their behalf. Things work best when there’s a leader for each party involved, moving the project forward, keeping things on target. The minute that someone else gets involved is the minute that the project gets complicated-there are suddenly too many chefs in the kitchen making things more disorganized and chaotic than they need to be.
Bottom line: if there’s a leader for each party, and each leader is communicating effectively, and if the project is running smoothly, there should be no need to involve anyone else.
Tip #4 – For goodness sake, research the contractor!
It goes without saying, but you should do some digging on any contractor you intend to hire. Ask around. Do a Google search. Look at the Better Business Bureau website for any negative feedback. You wouldn’t buy a car without researching it first and taking it for a test drive, right? So why would you blindly hire a contractor to work on your home? Your house just may be your biggest investment, so don’t hire just anyone to work on it. Contact several competing contractors, tell them about your project, set up a site visit (if need be), get a proposal in writing, ask for referrals. A lot of homeowners skip some or all of these crucial steps and then wonder why they had a bad experience with the contractor they’ve chosen. Take your time to research and go through the motions-you’ll be glad you did.
Tip #5 – Don’t quibble over minor imperfections
Handcrafted work is unique because not all pieces are alike. There are bound to be imperfections because human hands are not infallible. Only machines designed for mass production can achieve the type of cookie-cutter perfection you may be looking for. And even machines aren’t infallible, either. Spray polyurethane foam insulation is a good example of a “handcrafted” product. Home-improvement shows may depict a perfect wall cavity where the spray foam is flush with the studs and has an even, uniform appearance. In reality, because this product is spray applied by a (human) installer using what can only be described as a gun with hoses attached, the overall appearance will have peaks and valleys. What’s more, spray foam expands as it’s applied, so it may expand more in some areas and less in others, also attributing to the uneven appearance. If an installer is worth his salt, any area he spray foams will have an overall tolerance of +/- 0.5″ so the uneven appearance isn’t glaringly noticeable to the eye. If the peaks and valleys are extreme and clearly noticeable, that may be a sign of an inexperienced installer.
Bottom line, though, is this: it takes time, dedication and good hand-eye coordination to hand-make, hand-craft, or hand-paint anything. It requires skills that a lot of people don’t have, and it’s a dying art. Production lines lorded over by robots and large machines have quickly replaced goods made from scratch by human hands-an extension of our desire for cheap goods delivered fast. Take heart in the fact that if your contractor is handcrafting something for you, he is creating it with your individual tastes and needs in mind, something no machine can accomplish.
Tip #6 – It’s a work site, not a museum
Anytime you have work done to your home, it’s going to get dirty. And there will be noise from power tools and construction equipment. It’s par for the course when you undertake a renovation project. Want a constant state of order and cleanliness in your home? Don’t ever have work done to your home. Take heart – if you’ve chosen the right contractor, your house is in good hands. A little dirt won’t hurt, and can easily be cleaned up. Try to avoid following your contractor around the house, broom in hand. (Seriously, it happens.) Not only will you be in the contractor’s way, impeding his progress, but you’ll be showing that you don’t trust the contractor will clean up his mess. What’s more, you’re wasting your time tidying up behind your contractor. What you clean will get dirty again in a manner of minutes.
Keep in mind the noise and dirt are only a temporary inconvenience. Just think of the finished product! But if you’re the type that, for whatever reason, doesn’t like to be around construction sites, vacate the house while the work is being done. If someone must be there with the contractor, leave someone else in your family in charge. By the time you return, the work will probably be done!
There you have it-six ways to avoid being a nuisance homeowner. If you follow these tips, you’ll have a successful relationship with any contractor you hire. You don’t want to risk ruining your relationship with your contractor, right? After all, you may need their help for future projects.