Contractors , Communication and Respect


Part 1 contained information about how to find your contractor. Now we’re going to discuss what happens next.

First Meeting and Follow-up

Meetings with contractors should include the major decision-maker(s) when the appointments are scheduled, because communication, compatibility and respect areContractors need Communication and Respect, too! important parts of the working relationship.

When contractors come to your home for the first time, it should be during daylight hours, if possible, so they can see details inside and out that may affect your project.  You may have to accommodate a very early morning appointment, or you may have to take time away from work for the meeting.  They will  want to see your electrical panel and other utility connections, in addition to seeing all areas adjacent to the areas you’re planning to remodel or add.  They  may want to quickly inspect the attic and crawl space (or basement); problems in these areas could also affect your investment.

Ask what the contractor uses for communication, i.e., cell phone (calls and/or text messages), e-mail, or voicemail.  Ask the contractor if he/she works with the crew, or personally supervises the work.  If the contractor is mainly a supervisor, ask how frequently he/she is at the jobsite.

At the end of your meeting with each contractor, let him or her know that you’re interviewing other contractors.  Set a date for a telephone update about the status of your project — getting preliminary estimates, hiring a contractor, etc., updating the progress of your design and preliminary plans.

Soon after your meeting,  call your local building department to check the contractor’s status regarding licenses, bonding, and insurance.  Check the status any complaints.  Contact the local Consumer Protection Agency or Better Business Bureau if you have any suspicions.  Also call all of the references given — former clients, trade contractors, suppliers.  Ask questions:

Did he/she meet most deadlines?  Were there construction delays? (If “Yes,” then “Why?” and “How long?”)
How would you rate (his/her) product knowledge?  Did he/she follow manufacturers’ installation instructions?
Did he/she make recommendations to help you stay in your budget?
How would you rate (his/her) communication skills?
How would you rate (his/her) construction knowledge and managerial skills?
Was the contractor responsive to questions about problems or scheduling?  Were problems resolved quickly?
Was the crew large enough to handle your project?
Did your project stay within your budget, or did you go over budget?

Your decision to hire a contractor should be based on an equal combination of three things:

The contractor’s knowledge/experience;
The estimate (DON’T CALL IT A BID*);
The personality “chemistry” between you and the contractor.

Bids* vs. Estimates

Homeowners are tempted to call estimates “bids.” There’s a world of difference between the two! It’s true that competing contractors are vying for your project, “bid” takes the person out of the equation, but “estimate” infers there’s already a relationship, based on mutual understanding of the project and goals.

Bid: To offer (a certain sum) as the price one will pay or charge; They bid $25,000 and got the contract.

Estimate: To form an approximate judgment or opinion regarding the worth, amount, size, weight, etc., of; calculate approximately; to estimate the cost of a college education.

Preliminary Estimates vs. Final Estimates

A preliminary estimate can be based upon phone calls and meetings with contractors, but the best way to get realistic estimates is to provide plans that are as detailed as possible. If all of the products haven’t been selected, the contractors can provide labor-only estimates or give you an allowance for products. Product allowances are usually very low, and it’s difficult for Homeowners to stay within the contractor’s budget. Only the final plans will be detailed enough for the contractor to provide an accurate, locked-in estimate that will be part of the contract documents for your project.

NOTE: All estimates should clearly define what’s included and what’s not included. The final written contract should include the final estimate, the total that you’re paying, and terms of payment. If you have any questions about any of the documentation provided by the contractor, get answers before he/she starts working on your home.

It’s not uncommon for contractors to charge a fee to prepare a detailed estimate. This fee is justified, because they can spend 80 hours or more getting reliable numbers from suppliers and trade contractors. Many contractors will apply a portion (or all) of the estimate fee to the project if you hire them.

When you’ve made your decision about your contractor, call the other contractors as a courtesy, thanking them for their time and interest in your project.

Free Estimates vs. Fee Estimates

A free estimate is more of a guesstimate, comparing your project to others that the contractors have finished Or it’s a quick calculation of the per-square-foot cost of a generic project applied to your unique project. It takes contractors many hours to achieve a realistic, reliable estimate that includes phone calls and jobsite meetings with trade contractors, designers and suppliers, calculating material quantities, factoring in permits and debris removal, overhead expenses, and profit margins. Bottom line: Would you be willing to work without compensation for two weeks to get or keep a job? Some contractors will build their compensation into the fee they charge , while others will tell you up front what they’ll charge to prepare an estimate and offer an incentive of reducing your investment in their services if you select them. In either case, you must know what the contractors’ policy is to help you make an informed decision about who to hire.

Trade Contractors

The general contractor is only as good as his weakest trade contractor.  The contractor has control, and can fire an irresponsible trade contractor, UNLESS the trade contractor has been hired directly by the Homeowners.  This is a potentially bad situation.  When a general
contractor loses control of the project scheduling and financial authority, everyone ends up unhappy — especially the Homeowners.

There shouldn’t be direct communication between trade contractors and Homeowners about the project or their fee.  Nothing should  minimize the general contractor’s control over the project.

Honest Communication and Mutual Respect

All working relationships are based on honest communication and mutual respect of all team members, including the Homeowners, the Contractor, the Professional Designer, Suppliers, and Trade Contractors. Successful home remodeling projects are based on these two key ingredients. If one or both is lacking (or missing), guaranteed there will be problems.

The above article is a revision of Chapter 11 of the award-winning book, “THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling”.

“See the Possibilities. Create a Positive Difference.”

Read about Diane Plesset’s philosophy, training, and experience.

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