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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Contractors: The Good, The Bad and The Shrugger

Not all contractors are created equally and based on my experiences, they seem to fit into three categories.

The Good: Every homeowner and designers dream. They come with good references from happy clients. They are polite, professional, friendly and respectful of you and your home. They provide detailed proposals and outline the schedule of work to be performed. They discuss issues and concerns with you as they arise and work with you to find a satisfactory solution. They show up on time and call when there is going to be any significant delays on your job. They tidy up the job site and remove all trash and debris daily....without being asked and of course, do quality work!

The bad: We've all had these experiences to varying degrees. Things that will alert you to problems could include any or all of these. The contractor who doesn't look you in the eye when talking, is dismissive or condescending. Communication is difficult and information must be dragged out of them with multiple questions and/or every detail must be painfully extracted. Specifically, they provide no information without being requested to do so.

They come unprepared and ask you for things like towels/rags, step ladders or tools! They either have them in their truck and are too lazy to retrieve them or they didn't bother to stop and get the items necessary to do your job. Direct them to your nearest hardware store. If you provide supplies this will set the tone for the whole job. I have even had contractors ask me for water and to use my microwave, hardly appropriate for someone you just met! I have been asked to go out and get food when contractors are running behind. Don't cave in! Politely direct them to where food sources are and the hardware buy a cooler.

They are not respectful of your home,  neglecting to take proper precautions to cover surfaces such as floors and furniture. There are surprise costs at the end. They don't show up on time or leave early. They take multiple or extended breaks. They tell you you don't need permits and/or inspections. Huge red flag!!! Even if everything else seems great, if they say this...walk away and move on.

The Shrugger: These guys are tricky. Sometimes they are good and sometimes they are bad. We all shrug from time to time and usually it means one of three things: we are perplexed, we are thinking of a solution or we don't know or care. In contractor speak it can mean any of these things or it can mean "I'm not committing" to what you are saying. So if you took the shrug to mean the first three possibilities and there is a problem, you're going to hear "I never said we could or couldn't do (fill in the blank)". CYA (cover your ass) and nail them down for a response and note it on the  proposal and have them initial it.

Here's what you need to do before you began any project to try and ensure the smoothest possible scenario in the absence of a GC, project manager and/or designer:
  • Get multiple quotes from a variety of GC's or sub-contractors. This step alone will teach you a lot!
  • Communicate effectively the scope of the work that you want to complete and stick to you original plan. If things are modified after the initial contract, you and the GC need to sign an amendment/change order.
  • Obtain a detailed proposal. If your contractor does one price and you are going it alone, I suggest you know how much basic supplies are (a sheet of drywall, 2x4's, etc...) to determine if things seem in line for the scope of your particular job. If you're still not comfortable ask for it to be broken down by supplies and labor. Note: contractors do not like to do this.
  • Let them know you don't provide food, water and supplies and expect them to come prepared. 
  • Talk about schedules. What time they will arrive and depart daily as well as the estimated completion date. Will they being doing other jobs simultaneously?
  • When they arrive, make sure the job is prepped properly. If you don't think it is, speak up!!! Otherwise, make sure you know what any possible claim process will be.
  • If you don't understand something or something doesn't seem right cease work immediately and make the appropriate calls.
  • Will they use your bathroom? If so, designated the one you prefer! If not, make sure a company vehicle is left for them to use. Does anyone on the crew smoke? Where should they dispose of butts/ashes?
  • Where do you want the trucks to park? On your driveway or in front of your house? Tell them specifically. Make sure they don't block your mailbox. Minimum code, in most areas, is 25 feet.
  • Pull inspections for everything. Make sure you have the proper permits filed. If you don't you may find yourself in trouble from a neighbor who reports unauthorized work or you may get a nasty surprise in the form of a property tax assessment and/or bill when you go to sell your home.
  • Check references, your county/city licensing division and the BBB for information about your contractor. Ask them to see their credentials and photos of their work.
  • Never pay in full up front. Large jobs should be spit into three payments. The first payment is your good faith. This secures you a place on their schedule and covers the costs of supplies. The percentage is something that is worked out with the GC or project manager and you. Smaller jobs will be split into two equal payments, in most cases.  Do not make final payment until job site is thoroughly cleaned and you are satisfied with all work. And never let a contractor say no problem we'll fix it this week, but I still need to collect the final payment. Final means final...for all parties! If they want final payment they will "find" someone on their crew to remedy whatever you are unsatisfied with sooner rather than later.
Above all trust your gut instinct before you sign any contracts. If if doesn't feel right, chances are it's not.

Next week the before and afters of the floors. The weather didn't cooperate as much as we had hoped and it took forever to get the original stain off the kitchen floor. They be will back working today and tomorrow and by Friday evening everything should be dry and looking beautiful and I'll have pictures to show next week!

All images via Google.


  1. We lucked out with our contractor, he's good. But then again between my husband and I there isn't much we don't know about a building site and our contractor knew this. He's also been working on our house off and on for as long as we've owned this place and wouldn't let anyone else touch our home. We pay our contractor every Saturday after I've seen all the bills and we've gone over every single expense this way I can see exactly where our money is going.

  2. As a former designer, you have categorized contractors very well. So helpful to homeowners. XO

  3. AO, knowing your way around construction as well as the vocaulary is the biggest asset of all! As far as your longtime contractor...lucky, lucky, lucky!

    I've known my favorite handyman/plumber for over 17 years and he keeps threatening to retire and move to NC to be close to his grandkids. Can blame him one bit, but I am going to be so bummed out when it happens.

  4. omg....
    don't even get me going on these guys!!!


  5. Oh, this is so what my past five weeks have been like.

    I've had a stone installer laying travertine in my master bath. His work is excellent but his work ethic sucks balls. He wrapped up Friday, and I've never been so excited to see someone leave.

  6. Rebecca such great points. It is really hard because you just don't always know until the guy has aleady torn things up!!

    Art by Karena

  7. There is a special school for contracters in which they teach all of the above with tardiness being at the top of the curriculum.

  8. Terrific summary and advice. We were lucky and had a wonderful honest contractor but I have certainly heard plenty of stories from people I'm sure would have loved to have had your pointers!

  9. Great post! i have had many grey hair as a result of contractor's hell in my professional and personal life. It seems that the category of the Good id a rare commodity

  10. Good advice and a great post! I've had my share of all three types of contractors. The good ones are so busy that you have to wait forever for them, so you end up with a shrugger or a bad one if you're impatient like me.

  11. Catching up on
    your posts as I've
    been away. Oh yeah,
    I think I have known
    ALL of these guys, too!
    GREAT info and I'll
    look forward to seeing
    how your floors progress!
    Happy Easter,
    xx Suzanne

  12. This is so incredibly helpful, as we move through the drawings, the permits and will put our project out to bid in June. I'm kind of excited, kind of dreading all of this. I suspect it will be a 5 month plus project, which puts us smack into winter...but I know the results will be worth it. If I surive! :)

    Keeping this close at hand for when we begin!
    xoxo elizabeth

  13. I have dealt with all of these and more. One of my most annoying pet peeve is the dress code. Guess what I do not want to stare at your naked torso in or around my house no matter how hot it is, put a shirt on it! Another is the throwing of trash anywhere, I would love to go to a bbq at a contractors house and just throw the plates, cups, napkins and left over food on the yard and say "Oh I thought this was a tradition of yours!" And finally, I as a woman, don't understand thee complexity of the job so I will not be discussing anything with you but I am able to write a check for you when you want it. Sorry I am too stupid to write out numbers.
    As you can tell I am bitter but it is well deserved.

  14. This post should be placed in every house & home publication out there (I know there aren't many left...but still!). After five years, we're dealing with the vanishing contractor right now...long, long story, but another type I would add to your list is the one that cares more about his subs happiness than yours, the good ol' boys club...where the contractor is afraid to step on his long time sub's toes to the point of wrong sized windows being put in, cracked marble allowed to be installed, wrong sized cabinets allowed to be installed...all in the name of keeping the peace with the sub...WATCH OUT FOR THAT ONE! They need to be on YOUR side if something is done or made incorrectly...and 100% too! If they want to alter your home to fit wrong! Luckily, WE caught & stopped them *each* time and fought to have it all done right...then of course we looked like the trouble clients, but that was okay because everything got taken care of wasn't fun but we learned a lot. Whew...nice to vent a bit!
    Such a needed tutorial Rebecca...
    thank you!!
    xo J~

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