The Importance Of Choosing The Right Contractor

August 7, 2017

Ever here the expression “It’s expensive to be cheap twice”?  In no other arena than that of home renovations is that old saying more true.  All to often we meet with customers who thought they were getting a good deal when in reality they were getting exactly what the paid for…..a cheap renovation – that we now have to fix.

It’s just hammers and nails…..or is it.

Don’t feel bad if this happened to you.  We know how it is.  It’s difficult to look at a contractor’s proposal that includes all those wish list items at a price you can afford and say to yourself...”Nah, I think we should cut back on the extras and go with the guy who we know will do the best job.  After all, it’s just hammers and nails and it look so easy on T.V.”  At this point, the need for instant gratification usually overrides logic and homeowners get excited by the dangling carrot in the form of an estimate that is 20% lower than everyone else and lunge head first into what will soon by one of their worst nightmares.

So, how can you avoid this common mistake and ensure you are getting a quality renovation?  Here are a few simple tips you can use to set yourself and your renovation up for success.

First, you must realize that construction is a very technical and potentially dangerous trade requiring years of experience and accumulated knowledge in areas ranging from engineering and project management, to material compatibility and functional design.   It’s made to look easy on T.V. to give viewers a false sense of hope.  That possibly of “I can do that” is what keeps us watching.  Sure some projects are more than capable of being completed by your average DIY’er but once you get into moving walls, water and vapor management, structural loads, electric, plumbing, even finish carpentry the results can be disastrous unless the person in charge has devoted an enormous amount of time and energy into perfecting the methods by which those tasks should be performed.  This is quite possibly the most important tip.  It’s understanding that next to your doctor, no other person will perform an action that is so directly responsible for you and your family’s safety.  Imagine the person who was responsible for ensuring that the beams supporting the floor in your kids bedroom where installed correctly didn’t know the difference between a hammer and a two-by-four.

Once you come to the realization that this is risky business you can begin looking for the right person to help bring your desires to life.  The best place to start is a friend or relative who is happy with a recent renovation.  Look at the quality of work that went into their home.  Does it meet your standards?  Ask if the contractor was neat, professional, knowledgeable, and helpful.  Most of all, ask them if they felt like he was trustworthy.

If no one you know can help you in finding a contractor visit a local design center or architect and ask them for recommendations.  Designers and architects will almost exclusively recommend contractors that can produce the type of finished product that the designer had intended.  If they’re happy with the work you will almost certainly be too.

If that doesn’t work, there are plenty of online searches that can product high quality options.  Thanks to the internet, there are millions of reviews on everything from cars to restaurants.  Contractors are heavily reviewed online and you can get a quick feel for what previous customers thought of their experience with a particular company.

If you’re still having trouble……..well lets face it, at this point it might be you but, for arguments sake, you can visit a local trade or building organization or ask the town for a list of local contractors.

Second.  Once your find a few potential contractors interview each one individually.  Make sure they have experience completing projects like the one you are looking to have done.  Ask for references and photos of their work.  Speak to their past clients and get a feel for how they operate.  Last but not least, make sure they are fully licensed and insured.  That’s a biggie, especially workers compensation insurance which many contractors forego.

By now you should be entering the bidding phase.  This is where you’ll get to compare estimates.  But make sure you are comparing apples to apples.  You are likely to see wide price disparities between contractors.  This can happen for multiple reasons which we’ll discuss further in an upcoming blog but there are a few steps you need to take in order to make sure you know what you are paying for.  First, make sure you know what materials and of what grade are being supplied.  Find out if the contractor has factored in coordination of all trades or just the ones that pertain to his specialty.  Ask each one how many man hours they anticipate the job taking.  (That’s the total hours spent on the job by all workers, not the amount of time in days it will take to complete).  That number will give you a good idea as to which estimate seems most accurate.  If one contractor estimates 100 man hours and another estimates 20 than you are looking at two completely different estimates for two completely different jobs and you need to make sure everyone is on the same page.   You can enlist the help of a project manager, professional estimator, or designer who can all draft professional bid requests detailing the scope of work in a language familiar to all contractors.  This way you will be able to communicate your desires effectively to each person who bids on your job.

Lastly, think long and hard about the work that needs to be performed.  Ask yourself how much would someone need to pay you in order to do the work yourself.  Be realistic about the cost of labor.  Most talented labor in the north east demands at least $35.00 per hour.  After the contractor pays insurance and employment taxes that cost jumps to almost $60.00 per hour.  And that’s before profit and overhead are added.  If one contractor comes in much lower than the rest there may be good reason.  He either is hurting for work.  Which happens, but if you’re good, not often.  Or, he drastically under estimated the work that will be required and therefore will run into issues about half way through your renovation and start cutting corners.  Or, he may just have a different standards than you and the other contractors would expect and through no fault of his own, may not be able to deliver a finished product that meets your standards of quality.  Either way, you are apt to not have a good experience and likely will have call one of the other and yes, more expensive contractors that you should have chosen to begin with.

Bottom line – pay the little bit extra upfront and sleep well at night knowing you made the right decision to go with a reputable contractor who cares about their work.

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