As we gather around our collective tables this holiday season, many of us will remember the old adage that “You can’t choose your family” so even though you didn’t get to pick the family you were born into, you do have a choice when it comes to selecting a general contractor for your next project.
We contractors come in all shapes and sizes just as the family around your table on Thanksgiving afternoon, we all have our share of flaws and foibles. Understanding your options and the ramifications of this choice is critical for the success of your project. Choosing whiskey and ice cream for desert after 2 plates of turkey dinner can have severe consequences on your loved ones around you and hiring the wrong guy for your kitchen remodel can wreck the same havoc!
I think we can all agree that the ideal contractor hits on all points: fast, fair price, high quality, professional, clean, a good communicator and maybe even well groomed! (kinda like how they make the men appear on the Bachelor) Go down to your local home center any Sunday afternoon and survey 10 people walking out the door and ask them if they would like to work with a contractor with those attributes and eight would say “hell ya” and the other 2 would simply laugh in your face and walk away while yelling over their shoulder
“HE DOESN’T EXIST!!!!!!!”
The truth is, we as contractors, both the general type like me and specialty contractors like your plumbers and electricians, all fall a little short in these categories while others fall a bit further. So what are you, Mr and Mrs lowly homeowner supposed to do? What do you look for in your remodeling or building contractor? Type that question into The Google and you will get a million and 1 results.
I propose a different question…..
I suggest you take an atypical approach and look from the bottom up. In this case the bottom is the actual center of the earth or what I refer to as Contractor Hell and the 5 levels of home owner purgatory that await you if you choose unwisely.
We’ve either experienced firsthand or heard from friends and family about their contractor horror stories. Stories that range from the unflushed toilet in the 2nd floor bathroom to the contractor that took the deposit and never came back. Looking from the bottom up, may help give you a little perspective when it comes time to pick your contractor for your next remodel.
We all agree that the contractor described earlier would be heaven on earth, but what about everyone else? What follows are the 5 levels of home owner purgatory that you will be sentenced to when you agree to sign on the dotted line with any contractor. The unknown is how far down the ladder will you actually descend as your level of punishment and suffering increases with every rung.
Level I. Takes Too Long. This is the contractor that hits on all cylinders except for the schedule. The quality is there, he communicates well and has proven he can be trusted with the money, including changes and extras. The problem is that the framers were supposed to be finished last week and the siding was going to start on Monday and the numerous setbacks and push backs has taken the 5 month project into 6. Sounds pretty lousy right? The come to Jesus moment for you the homeowner is that this describes most GOOD contractors in business today! Even I am guilty of falling to this level of schedule torment from time to time. There are simply so many facets of the job that are out of our control and the schedule is usually the first plate to fall.
Level II. Unreliability–
- Communication– You can’t get a hold of him or he doesn’t respond to calls, texts or emails in a timely manner.
- No Show- Every time you go by the job nobody is there
- “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies” “We’ll be there on Monday” he refrains, the problem is, he didn’t clarify what Monday!
These are not always deal breakers, but will definitely test your patience and add to the stress and frustration that is already built into your remodeling project.
Level III. Quality– This step down is where the regrets for all your past sins come to bear. Once you hit this level it’s tough to see him the same way again. Kinda like when you see what hot dogs are made out of, but you still eat one now and again, because you cant imagine a world without hot dogs..
Now every job will have its share of mistakes and items that might not pass the “to be completed in a workmanlike manner” as stated in your contract and through the normal course of job, these items will pop up and most builders will take the necessary steps to fix the issues at hand. The concern is not with the normal mistakes and corrections that come with all jobs, the problem is when they become accepted as status quo and left as is and then rationalized as acceptable.
Where this line exactly is, is not so easy to spot and good luck to you to try and find it.
Level IV. $$$$$$$- It’s starting to get hot in here! He’s whacking you for extras that should have been included in the scope and the usual change orders and extras that are inherent to all projects are coming with inflated price tags or he’s charging you for THIS but actually installing THAT. This is where it simply sucks to be you and now you are losing sleep and fighting with your spouse (more than usual) and the retirement fund or the kids college fund is getting tapped. Most times all you can do is hang on for dear life and hope to get out alive.
Finding yourself at this level simply sucks. I still toss and turn over the $50 crab leg I got stuck with in Bergen because I didn’t ask the shyster the 2 most important words in worldly commerce…HOW MUCH?
“HOW MANY KRONER IS THAT KING CRAB LEG SIR????”
Level V. “You stole it” I love the scene from my favorite holiday movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles when Neal Page accuses Del Griffith of stealing his money while he slept. It reminds me of the the bottom level of contractor hell, when the guy you picked takes your $50,000 deposit for your new addition and runs off to Brazil with the nanny and you never see him, your money or your addition again. Now your wife leaves you for making such a terrible choice of a contractor and you don’t need an addition anymore because you now live in a van down by the river.
DON’T BE THAT GUY!
The perspective here, is that 4 of the 5 levels of homeowner purgatory are all issues related to character and only 1 pertains to quality, yet most people think that price and quality are the most important things when choosing a contractor. My challenge you homeowners is to actually make your choice by simply avoiding the individuals most likely to take you down this path. In other words, choose character first and then…… hope and a pray that you chose wisely!
Nathan Dishington of Jensen Hus is Design Build Contractor in the Boston area specializing in contemporary building and remodeling projects and dolling out occasional marginal advice for homeowners and aspiring contractors.