Tips on Dealing with Contractors

Time post: 2013-01-15 10:03:42

There are two types of contractors, wholesale and retail. Retail show up in a shiny truck wearing starched shirts with a tape measure on their belt. Wholesale show up a day late because their car broke down and they borrow your tape measure. Retail gives you a pretty bid while wholesale writes on a napkin at best. Wholesale changes their phone number every month where as retail has a receptionist answer. Wholesale is about 1/3 the cost of retail and in the end, both will end up being a pain in the butt. So for the most part, you might as well save the money, especially on stuff like paint and sheetrock.|

There are two types of contractors, general and specific. Most contractors will claim they can do everything. In my experience, very few can. I find it better to get contractors that specialize in specific jobs… tile, trim, granite, cabinets, etc. Usually, if the job is requires a specific material, that find a specialist. The key is to shop around and get a lot of bids. For example, granite can range from $30/foot to $100 with no difference in quality. I’ve found certain companies that do the same thing over and over again (cabinets, granite, hardwoods, tile) and have it down to a system often only cost 30% more and are worth dealing with for the convenience. The key is finding those companies since most charge 200% more. Speaking of specialist, try very hard not to use electricians or plumbers unless the job involves pulling a permit in which case you have no choice. General handyman charge $25-$50/hour and can replace faucets, valves, switches & light fixtures. Plumbers and electricians claim to charge $75-100 but they overestimate the hours a job takes so you usually end up paying twice that rate.

Don’t underestimate the value of day labor from the City of Austin site for landscaping, demo and other task where you just need muscle. $10/hour buys some great workers. Very useful for clearing lots and ripping out showers.

There is only one type of contractor… the type that underestimates cost and time frame. If you’re lucky, both will go over by only 30%. If you’re unlucky…

There will be mistakes. Expect to waste at least 25% of your time and money fixing stupid mistakes you don’t understand how the contractor can make. Really dumb things like using the wrong tile, breaking stuff and painting your favorite stained door. Also, realize that remodeling isn't as fun and glamorous as HGTV makes it seem. You'll get very sick of going to Home Depot everyday for supplies and dropping by the house constantly because the contractor has a question, needs paint or is out of money to pay his workers. Finally, it's not a bad idea to get the number for your contractor's wife. If they start being unreliable, their women are usually really good at whipping em back into shape.

Another common thing... if one contractor does the majority of the work, they often have a hard time finishing the job. They get tired and slow down a lot. The solution is to bring in a "Closer", someone who can finish up all the details the general contractor is tired of dealing with.

Before picking a contractor, have a very specific list of everything you would want done. You'll need some experience to come up with a comprehensive list and no matter how experienced you are, the list will evolve. But having something concrete in writing manages expectations. It's even a great idea to put up the checklist prominently in the house. Attach the list to a contract. Surprisingly, workers take contracts very seriously. Put a time frame in there to finish the work that's a couple weeks longer than the contractor says he will take. Give him a bonus if he finishes on time and a penalty if he goes long. Also not a bad idea to include a workman's comp release in the contract.
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