Remodeling contractors are crucial allies in your quest to improve your home. Few homeowners have the time, experience, or ability to do it all themselves. That’s where the remodeling contractor steps in: to organize your home remodel and see it to successful completion.
Remodeling contractors bear more than their share of complaints on online contractor referral sites. Sometimes, these complaints are legitimate. Yet the majority of remodeling contractors are honest, competent, and diplomatic—and they feel that the process could only be improved if clients knew a few important things before signing the contract.
9 Quick Tips for Hiring and Working with Contractors
They Would Rather Not Work With Your People
You’ve hired the contractor for a full-scale kitchen remodel. The contractor is fully on-board. Then you spring the news that you want your cousin, who is a plumber, to handle the plumbing. And you have an uncle who will handle the electrical work.
The contractor is a facilitator at the center of a vast group of subcontractors (subs). The contractor has go-to people, and has others in mind as back-ups. Almost as important, the remodeling contractor has a blacklist of problem sub-contractors, a list forged from years of hard knocks.
By using your uncle to install HVAC, the contractor would be working with someone with whom he or she has no established relationship. Second, the contractor is depriving work from a group of subs who may depend on the contractor for steady work. Third, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not taking advantage of a group of workers who are pre-screened to get the job done.
They Don’t Like Reusing Your Old Stuff
You just love those knotty pine kitchen cabinets from 1952. So vintage, so romantic, and evocative of a mountain cabin, right? You ask your contractor to pull, refurbish, and reuse them with the remodel.
One problem with old things, and cabinets in particular, is that they may hold up while in place but fall apart upon removal. Old things have that tendency. Wood flooring cannot be easily removed and reused. Old leaded-glass windows look great but are impractical in the long-term, both from an energy standpoint and for functionality.
If you do want to reuse an item, factor in the added time and cost (to you) that it will take to shop it out to a qualified professional.
Contractors only want homeowners to understand the full implication of reusing old, pre-used items. Rather than being a money-saver, it can add more cost than the homeowner expected.
Keep in mind that some reused old items will not meet modern building codes and will not be approved for use upon inspection. Your contractor will know what can and can’t be reused legally.
They Have a Greater Allegiance to Their People Than You
As a client, you’re valuable to the contractor, not just as a source of immediate revenue but for that all-important thing called word-of-mouth. No contractor referral site or advertisement can remotely come close to the value of positive word-of-mouth.
While that’s true, it’s also true that you’re only a ship in the night compared to their relationships with the trades. Contractors might know you for two months, but often they know their people for years, decades even.
Should you have a problem with a certain person in the trades, the contractor might go so far as to pull the person from the project, if only to smooth things over with you and keep the project running. But that’s a rarity. Generally, you should have little or no issues with the trades if the contractor feels good enough to work with that person.
They’re Not Trying to Make Extra Work
Suspicious homeowners are sometimes convinced that contractors underbid remodel projects, all the while planning to load up the projects with extra tasks after the contract is signed.
While some unsavory contractors may do this, it does not represent the norm. In the book Avoiding the Con in Construction, Kia Ricchi reminds us that “change orders can be costly and disruptive.” Really, who wants another change order?
In a perfect world, contractors would love to have all of the intended work itemized on the contract. Because this is not a perfect world—walls are found to be crumbly when thought to be solid, foundations worse than expected, etc.—change orders exist. Change orders are not to be feared; they are part of normal business when remodeling a house.
They Can Help With Permits but Cannot Work Magic
Imagine a scenario where a homeowner wants special provisions: “I want to build my addition on a drainage easement, have no receptacles on the kitchen island, and put no windows in my residential basement. Can you get the permit office to approve this?”
Likely not. Contractors cannot make the permit office bend the rules. Do not ask the contractor to try to do this. Doing so might jeopardize the contractor’s standing with the permit office and might actually result in fines.
Contractors may have good relationships with the permit office that have often extended for years. One reason for the good relationship is that the contractor doesn’t ask the office to do things that cannot be done.
However, we live in a social world. Goodwill that the contractor has built up over years of working with permit officers and staff counts, and this is one reason why you hire a contractor: connections.
They Want You to Shop for Contractors
Client’s words that are music to a contractor’s ears: “I searched the world over and decided on you because I thought you were best suited for my project.”
No, it’s not a vanity issue for contractors. Instead, the contractor wants to know that you’re settled and confident that the contractor’s company is best for your job. Second-guessing once the project has begun won’t help anyone.
The Markup Fee Is Not Negotiable
Those remodeling contractor fees can seem high. Ten-percent? What about 20-percent? Any fee tacked onto an already high budget might seem burdensome. Should you try to bargain down their fee?
Contractors can be your ally in saving money. Contractors who operate professionally, which describes the majority of them, work in concert with the client, not against. So, with the contractor’s years of experience, the contractor can help identify a myriad of places where you can pare down costs.
But the contractor’s markup isn’t one of them. If you envision the fee as pure cream, know that only part goes to the contractor as personal income. The contractor also has a business to run, and that pays for the business.
They Like Perfectionist Clients More Than Legal Opponents
Do you feel like you’re being a nuisance by delivering clear, exact information to the contractor? Are you afraid to add to the punch list that comes at the end of the project, detailing remaining items to be done?
Do not be afraid to speak the truth. While no contractor likes a client who is impolite, the contractor does want to deal with requests now, long before the project is finished. Resentments that fester and turn into lawsuits help no one. Just be civil and professional about it, and the contractor will, too.
They Want You out of the House
The contractor is remodeling the entire first floor. Surely you can live on the second floor. Isn’t that why hot plates and microwaves were invented. Doesn’t that bathroom counter have room for a microwave?
True, it is your house and the contractor will not tell you to vacate your own house. But for big projects, it’s best for everyone if you stay out of the way. It’s a safety issue. It’s a space issue. The farther away you can go, the better.
They Want to Do Business
Truths and secrets aside, the remodeling contractor wants to do business. Most likely, the contractor wants to do business with you, specifically. As long as you have the kind of job that the contractor is experienced at, and you are easy enough to work with, the contractor will likely want to go ahead