Archives for August 2011

Choosing The Right Contractor (Part 2)

We have our own simple, yet delicate, solution to the problem outlined in last week’s blog entry. I confess: our initial proposal fees tend to be somewhat higher than other bidders. When evaluating a project, we try to anticipate the unanticipated. We expect to spend a substantial amount of time on final details, despite what issues arise in earlier stages.

Rather than bid the project lower and charging clients extra as we progress (or, as explained previously, simply skipping steps in finish work), we give ourselves that 10–20% cushion from the gate. As a result, we have an extremely strong record of staying within budget. Also, we have that flexibility to deliver exactly what clients want and spend that critical time on details without always thinking of our own checkbooks.

Believe me, after spending a month or longer in your kitchen, we want that room to look flawless. Caulk the trim on the recessed lights and outlet covers. Make sure the cabinet doors are plumb and level. Install the dimmers on pendant lights. Running around frantically with a paintbrush is not how we envisioned it from the beginning. And, I’m sure, neither did you.

But what should homeowners do? How do they know why one company charges $10 a square foot to install tile when another charges $14 or $18?

The answer is: take the time and ask. It’s not as simple as getting three estimates and taking the middle one. Unless you can read and thoroughly understand a proposal and anticipate all the variables, ask each contractor to talk you through it in detail.

Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. How does the heating mat under the tile in your bathroom work? Does every bid include the required dedicated circuit and thermostat for the mat, or are you going to have to pay for them later? Or will one contractor simply skip that step and attach the mat to an existing outlet?

Will he install cheap, lightweight hollow doors or the more attractive, durable and noise-reducing solid-core?

Does the contract specify simple, builder-grade trim and baseboard? If you’d like something a little more interesting or authentic to the character of the home, is there room for that in the bid or will you have to pay extra for labor and material later? Or simply sigh and accept whatever the contractor buys at Home Depot?

Perhaps one bidder will make sure your shower walls are level before tiling, rather than simply building on the existing studs or furring strips. Maybe that’s not important to you. But maybe, in the end, it will be.

No one expects every homeowner to be a remodeling expert, especially in the early bidding phase of a project. It’s my responsibility to educate my clients, and they should ask the questions. Sure I may quietly sigh when the client asks why I’m using green versus blue lid spackle, but that’s simply part of a healthy working relationship.

There’s no science to estimating jobs. It’s an educated guessing game, and both builders and homeowners can easily get into trouble by stacking the odds against themselves.

Remember, it’s your home. There’s no reason to live in a cloud of dust for a while only to see cracks when it settles.

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Choosing the Right Contractor

We’re awash in horror stories about contractors. Almost every time I meet potential clients, I feel penetrating eyes search for how I’m going to take their money and ruin their homes. Will they need to call “Holmes on Homes” when the project’s done?

Of course there are those, as in any field, who are dishonest and do sloppy work. What can I tell you — they’re out there.

But I work with Jon because we are impassioned with the craft. We are both possessed of the potential and intelligence (I think) to pursue any number of different fields, yet we genuinely love building and remodeling and seeing projects through from vision to fruition.

So I try to learn from and avoid the mistakes that can leave people so exasperated.

“It’s the details,” people usually tell me. “The contractor didn’t finish it correctly. And when I called him afterwards to come back, he never even returned my call.”

Amazing, I think. Someone does all that work and then ruins a relationship because he doesn’t see it through all the way. At Cumming Construction, we’re blessed to get almost all of our business from referrals and repeat clients. Why would someone burn those bridges — and so late in the process?

The simple answer is, despite how able and conscientious a contractor is, he may not be the best businessperson. Let me explain.

On every remodeling project, the homeowner will get three bids, sometimes more. If I’m a contractor who’s hungry and desperate enough (as many are), sure I’ll bid a job at the lowest workable figure to get that contract and assure steady income for several weeks.

But later, when we’ve gotten 80% of the pay for the job and still have 30% of the work to do, we’ve got big problems. While our work to this point has been high quality, the truth is the finish work is the most critical phase of the project to the homeowner.

Is the grout consistent, are there drips marks on the paint, are the nail holes in the trim filled, is the towel bar installed and level? How does it look? These items, left unaddressed, will ruin a remodeling project.

But when we bid the job at such a low fee, we ignored all the unseen issues that inevitably arise in any job (leaky shut-off valves, sub-standard floor support, mold, shoddy existing wiring, late-stage design changes — the possibilities are infinite). But now that we’ve paid to tackle those issues and are entering the finish phase, we’ve run out of time and money.

The only solution for the contractor is to sign the next contract, get a new deposit check, and begin the process somewhere else.

The result: unfinished work, unreturned phone calls, unhappy clients.

Check back next week to find out how, as a homeowner, you can help prevent being the next remodeling victim.

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