Anyone who has ever managed a contractor can attest to the stress that it causes. Contractors can be unreliable and prone to errors. Even those who do good work and show up on time may struggle with estimating their time properly. In my time, I built numerous fences and patios as well as completely gutting and remodeling a house. As someone who has been a builder as well as manager of large scale projects.
Here are five tips to make sure your project goes according to plan:
1. Plan the Work, Work the Plan
Too often, homeowners don’t have a detailed vision of what the end product will look like. And if they do, they are unable or unwilling to convey it to the contractor. This causes lots of stress as a contractor’s vision for your finished project may be far different than your own.
Use a date wheel or online project management tools to make sure your contractors stick to a schedule. Sometimes Excel is good enough as well. Whatever the project management system is, when something is visible it makes it known to all that it is a priority. Don’t feel any shame in hanging a schedule in that basement that’s getting remodeled. It makes it clear to the contractors what the schedule should be.
2. Get it In Writing
An electrician named Frank used to do some electrical work for me. Frank was a family friend and someone I trusted. Frank did a good job in general but forgot to add an electrical outlet on the back porch. We agreed he would finish it later. Months went by and Frank never returned to finish the outlet. The worst part was I gave him an advance on that portion of work. Suddenly, Frank forgot.
Anything in writing is a good thing. In today’s modern age, a simple text message might be ok. However, email is always better. There’s also no reason to go full contract on every piece of work that is being done. For instance, a $120 plumbing job should just be a simple signed invoice and word of mouth agreement. There has to be some level of trust between you and your contractors.
3. Trust Your Intuition
I hired a guy off Craiglist once named Kevin. Kevin struggled to show up on time and consistently seemed to “be taken advantage of” by his girlfriend. His complaints and victim mentality would eventually manifest in a temper tantrum and walking off a job site due to an argument with a roofer. Kevin’s inaction and poor attitude cost me lots of money and time. If I trusted my gut a bit more, I have no doubt it would have been a much better experience.
Another time, I was putting a gate in and the owner showed up in a nice Mercedes. It felt off and my immediate feeling was that this guy was too far removed from the work to really know how to get stuff done. At the time I was sick of talking to other contractors and just wanted to push the project forward. The Mercedes’ guy approach was exactly how I anticipated – totally removed from any understanding of what was going on with the project. He was there to collect the cash and his upcharges and change orders showed that same outlook.
4. Challenge Change Orders
“Is this the only way to do this? Can we figure out a more economical way?” Asking these simple questions could save hundreds of dollars. Sometimes contractors just do it “the way we’ve always done it”. An outsider’s view on their processes and way of thinking could pay dividends for both the contractor and the homeowner. Unfortunately, the business model of some contractors consists of breaking even on the job and then trying to find change orders to make money on. Be wary of these individuals.
There’s a fine line between doing due diligence and being a meddler. Nobody wants a client who constantly complains and wants everything done on the cheap. The likelihood of being able to get those contractors back to your home plummets when a bad attitude becomes apparent.
5. Relax, It’s a Messy Process
Don’t think that putting in a patio or getting a house painted won’t be disruptive. By acknowledging the project as a disruption prior to beginning, your mental framework will properly set for whatever inevitable delays or challenges will come your way. If you still find the process of contractors evading your home as annoying or even infuriating, count yourself lucky. Our ancestors lived in dark caves and never renovated.
Making your expectations clear to contractors on their behavior goes a long way as well. You can’t get mad at your yard guy for mowing during your baby’s nap if you never told him about your baby’s nap. The same goes for wearing shoes in the house or other seemingly innocuous sins. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
I built fences on the side with my buddies for a few years. We wanted to keep our costs low so we chose pine over cedar. Of the many poor choices I’ve made in my life, this one was probably the worse. The pine twisted and warped to almost comical degrees. For the next several months my friends and I made return trips to replace warped boards at least twice. That money we saved on the cedar vanished completely due to the warranty work.
Remember that story about Kevin? The guy I replaced him with was Josh. Josh was a free spirit from California who worked hard and did great work. He spoke about buildings having a soul and treated his carpentry work as a religious experience. I paid Josh double of what Kevin made and would have gladly paid triple due to his quality of work. And on the last day of work, Josh, my wife, and I enjoyed a bourbon as he played his guitar and sung a country song. Proving that you never know what you will get out of a contractor.
By Micheal Nasser of Punchlist Zero