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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
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    Needham, MA
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    Default How to hire a contractor

    a very popular topic that seems to keep coming up is how much does this or that cost. how do i find a good contractor. why does this or that cost so damn much. can i do part of the job myself to cut down on the contractor's price.

    let me give you 3 short stories.

    1. i got a call from a new customer who just bought a small old house and wanted basically a complete gut rehab. i priced it out after meeting with them and my subs about 6-7 times. they told me that they were going to have other contractors over to bid the job as well which i encouraged. when all was said and done, my estimate was about $130k and the other 3 contractors were $65k, $115k, and just over $140k. i spoke with them several times regarding all the bids and told them the importance of checking all of our references. when all was done, they opted with the $65k contractor. i also gave them my itemized estimate, minus the prices, to give to the other contractors so that we were all bidding on exactly the same things including brand names. about 2 months after starting with the cheap guy i got a call. they paid him either $35k or $40 up front, he gutted the house and a week later stopped showing up. they never heard from him again. i redid my estimate, basically removing the demo and offered to help them get the house finished. they once again tried to piece out the work to the cheapest bidder and last i heard (about 4-5 years ago) they were still not in the house after more than a year.

    2. a customer got me on a referral and asked me to price out a bunch of different jobs on a beautiful $2,000,000 house in a very nice town just outside of boston. he just purchased the house and we were doing most of the major work prior to him moving in. he asked me to price out the painting through my painter. he got 3 bids, one for $10k, one for $16k and one for $17k. after a few discussions and against my better judgement he went with the $10k guy. needless to say, within 2-3 months of him moving into the house he ended up paying my painter over $5k to redo all the problems from the original painter. plus they had to live there during all the work. to this day he's probably my best customer and i've gone to his house to just help him hang a picture. he calls me for everything now and always follows my recommendations.

    3. A customer found me somehow last august and asked me to price out redoing his kitchen and open the wall between the kitchen and dining room and also remodel two bathrooms. they had just purchased the house and he wanted to move in asap. i bid the job and never heard from him again until about a month ago. i got a call and met him at the house. they still had not moved in. the kitchen had about 5 cabinets hung on the wall and the DR/kitchen wall was down. the cabinets were not installed properly, not level, not plumb and had multiple holes drilled in them. one even had a split face frame. both bathrooms were partially redone and he had fired everyone working on the job. all independent people as he was trying to be the GC himself. he asked me to just install the kitchen cabinets only and he was going to take care of the rest himself. we did the kitchen and he was thrilled with our work. two days ago he signed a contract to have me finish all the other work in the house minus the painting and i promised to have all my work done by may 1st. i bid on the painting as did 2 others, our price was $8.5k, another was $9.2 k and the third was $4.5k. all i can say is "Here we go again"

    i hope you can all see what this boils down to and i'm speaking to all the non-contractors out there. i'm talking to the people that hire us. a house is something you live in for 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 years or more. if you want something done right you have to pay for it. not over pay for it and not under pay for it but pay for it none the less. why would someone pay $3,000 for a job to be done then pay $2,000 for it to be redone correctly when they could have had it done right the first time for $4,000.

    I'm sure that all the other contractors on here have similar stories and i'd love to hear them as i'm sure ALL of our customers would love to hear them also. it's as true now as it was 100 years ago. "Your get what you pay for!!!!"
    Last edited by MLBSF; 04-05-2012 at 08:06 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Houston Texas
    Posts
    2,360

    Default Re: How to hire a contractor

    When interviewing a potential customer I ask them;

    1- How many other contractors guarantee their work? How many of my competitors have mentioned a guarantee at all?

    2- We take no money up front. We only get paid when the work is complete and you are thrilled. (very large jobs are broken into sections) Who else works that way? We can do this because we are confident enough in our abilities that you'll be satisfied with our work.

    3- We do only ONE job at a time, and work on your home every day, 8 hours a day, start to finish. Have the competing contractors sworn to this?

    4- The first tool into the home and out of the home is the shop vac. We clean the house every day, usually leaving it cleaner than when we arrived.

    5- We give a fixed price. No sandbagging the customer with a low ball bid only to add to the job later.

    6- No, we cannot start your job right away. We are busy. Would you want to hire someone who isn't busy?

    I've had many of the same experiences as mentioned in the post above. If a customer is looking to finish a project on the cheap, then I am not the contractor for the job. A lasting installation takes time, craftsmanship, and quality materials. I prefer to call it "a fair price for excellent work" If the customer is up for that, then we have an agreement. It has to be a good match between the contractor and the customer, on both sides of the deal.

    If I had a dollar every time I've heard, "I should have hired you from the beginning" because
    A- We would have been done months before
    B- It would have been done right the first time, and not re-done 3 times.
    C- It would have been cheaper since this guy added on so much

    and my personal favorite;

    D- I had to bail the contractor out of jail to get him to finish the job.
    Last edited by HoustonRemodeler; 04-05-2012 at 09:58 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    254

    Default Re: How to hire a contractor

    I would add the requirements of A performance & payment bond be required for the amount of the bid and added to as changes are made in the contract amount ( CHANGE ORDERS )
    Also ask for a Certificate of insurance with the Home Owner named as the Insured.
    If ask for money up fromt make sure the bonding company is notified of the amount.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    6,480

    Default Re: How to hire a contractor

    Quote Originally Posted by MLBSF View Post
    to this day he's probably my best customer and i've gone to his house to just help him hang a picture. he calls me for everything now and always follows my recommendations.
    I have many stories like this. I quite literally became one of the family to most of my clients, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

    Quote Originally Posted by MLBSF View Post
    why would someone pay $3,000 for a job to be done then pay $2,000 for it to be redone correctly when they could have had it done right the first time for $4,000.
    I very much saw myself as much an educator as a contractor, and nearly every new client had to be taught the value of doing things right the first time. Once they realized the detriment of trying to "cheap" out on materials and labor, they were more open to realistic estimates on the work they wanted done. What really drove this point home is when I'd tell them that I get paid to do a job ONCE! I don't get paid to come back and do warranty work, and I don't win any favors or repeat business with faulty materials or craftsmanship.

    Another seemingly foreign idea to most homeowners is that it is THEIR house and THEIR checkbook, so that as long as the work is being done correctly it should be what THEY want, not what someone else tells them it should be. They are the ones that have to live with it, they are the ones that need to be happy with the work being done

    And finally, during a walk through I am not interested in what you THINK you can afford, I want to know exactly what it is that you WANT. As we go through I will point out options suitable for each situation and then provide prices accordingly when I submit the proposal. Here's the thing, people think that what they want is too expensive, hence the cheap materials and labor they hire. When you remove money from the equation you get them to open up with their plans and dreams. By breaking down a proposal and offering options, the homeowner can see that what they actually WANT is very attainable, and usually for a whole lot less than they expected.

    For me it wasn't about the money, it was about providing the client with the most value for their money. I encouraged them to seek other bids and that those bids be equal in content because a bid for apples and a bid for oranges and a bid for bananas cannot be compared to each other which does the client no good.
    I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    6,480

    Default Re: How to hire a contractor

    Quote Originally Posted by HoustonRemodeler View Post
    If I had a dollar every time I've heard, "I should have hired you from the beginning" because ...
    I had a similar system of checks and balances for the clients, but taking on a new work was more about my compatibility with the client, my wanting to do work, and the work being something I would enjoy. Without those three things together, I would not take the work, and I was very busy all the time.

    I lost a job early in my career because the homeowners didn't think I was big enough to get the job done and get it done quickly. About a year or so later I ran into them and they apologized for not hiring me because the "bigger company" ran way over time, over budget, and the workmanship wasn't what they expected. My bid and the other company's bid were very similar in price, so I know that it wasn't about the money.

    As an aside, had I gotten this particular project, my career would have likely taken a right turn in an unexpected direction, being the regional installation contractor and instructor for a kit home manufacturer.
    I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Posts
    6,480

    Default Re: How to hire a contractor

    Quote Originally Posted by Clarence View Post
    I would add the requirements of A performance & payment bond be required for the amount of the bid and added to as changes are made in the contract amount ( CHANGE ORDERS )
    Also ask for a Certificate of insurance with the Home Owner named as the Insured.
    If ask for money up fromt make sure the bonding company is notified of the amount.
    And it is people like you who wonder why they can't find someone to come and do a project for them, and get screwed when they do. Am I afraid of a performance bond? Heck no, but I am worried about the mental stability of a homeowner so worried about getting screwed that they put out an invitation to get just that.

    Let me put this into perspective for you, you already DON'T want to pay $5000 for that bath remodel, what makes you think that you're going to be happy about tacking on an extra grand or two when I beat the deadline? And before you think I wouldn't win, I'm not an idiot, I do not make losing wagers.

    The sad thing is, because you're requiring so much more paperwork and B.S. to what was once a simple project, that even if I was interested in you as a client (and I'm not!!! ), I'd charge you significantly more just for the pain and suffering of dealing with you.

    As for "up front" money, most states have strict guidelines as to the amount of a deposit or start payment, due diligence is the homeowners responsibility before they hire anyone to know if the person they are hiring is licensed, bonded, and insured, let alone honest with integrity. It is also up to the homeowner to know what their liabilities are should someone get injured while on the property.

    Good luck with your endeavors.
    I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    nova scotia, canada
    Posts
    1,522

    Default Re: How to hire a contractor

    when we enitially look at a job we will walk through take pictures of the existing.. figure out every little thing we can about the house before opening things up, reason being in some situations in far cheaper to simply knock the house down and start new than it is to alter the house so much to make it look like a drawing.. we end up tearing so much of the existing apart the that the labour costs go through the roof.. we've done several of these where modifying the existing would cost over 100k more than starting fresh. we consult the architect several times.. bring in an engineer to spec whats needs to be done to ensure everything will be structurally sound.. we typically come in much higher than the average contractors however 80% of our crew is made up of guys that are all masters of different aspects of carpentry, 2 general contractors , 1 master framer, 1 siding and door master, a master cabinet builder and myself a master trim carpenter who is also a journeyman.. this kinda of crew has a high price tag compared to a bunch of illegal immagrants

    when we start a job the first thing we do on the inside of the existing is protect all floors that arent being touched, we cover them with osb or foam. then at the finish stage of the job all new hardwood gets covered with the empty cardboard boxes that he flooring came in.

    as someone else mentioned about going in after another contractor disappeared. we just did this recently. a contractor did a large addition to a house and at the finish stage the homeowner had to fire the guy. we went in and did all the trim work. i led the install on the stain grade trim package.. we didnt really need the work however the homeowner wanted to have his house done 2 years late

    pertaining to having people on the house all the time, we cant do that with the types of jobs we do. we do large scale reno's mostly.. which requires every trade. we get to a certain point where were held up by subtrades and theres nothing we can do until their done. whenever possible we try to work around them, when the framing is complete we move outside and build the decks and hang siding.. if we get to a point where were still waiting we shift over to another site and work there its all about keeping the site running smooth

    for payments, we require a downpayment on materials, then the homeowner makes further payments at benchmarks in the project.. such as "rooftight" meaning framing is complete and windows are in. "siding complete"- payment for siding and the installation labour, same for "rough in".. when electrical, plumbing, hrv. etc is complete thats another payment.. dryall... flooring... trim... etc.. etc. our price is fixed.. any additional charges that the homeowner must pay are due to change orders, meaning the homeowner wants something changed or wants something added then its considered "cost plus " cost of material plus labour by the hour

    another thing is, we warrenty our work. if a specific item in teh house is defective within the first year of installation it gets replaced at our cost provided it wasnt destroyed by recklessness, plus we have a 5 year structural warrenty. anything goes wrong with the structure thats also warrenty'd. last year we build a custom house where we got a call that a interior door was falling off the hinges.. i went in to look at it.. they had a basketball net mounted to the the back of the door. the kids were hanging off the rim.. which the weight of the child was pulling the door away (90% of the doors we install are solid interior doors btw.)
    fire up the saw and make some dust

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    254

    Default Re: How to hire a contractor

    Quote Originally Posted by A. Spruce View Post
    And it is people like you who wonder why they can't find someone to come and do a project for them, and get screwed when they do. Am I afraid of a performance bond? Heck no, but I am worried about the mental stability of a homeowner so worried about getting screwed that they put out an invitation to get just that.

    Let me put this into perspective for you, you already DON'T want to pay $5000 for that bath remodel, what makes you think that you're going to be happy about tacking on an extra grand or two when I beat the deadline? And before you think I wouldn't win, I'm not an idiot, I do not make losing wagers.

    The sad thing is, because you're requiring so much more paperwork and B.S. to what was once a simple project, that even if I was interested in you as a client (and I'm not!!! ), I'd charge you significantly more just for the pain and suffering of dealing with you.

    As for "up front" money, most states have strict guidelines as to the amount of a deposit or start payment, due diligence is the homeowners responsibility before they hire anyone to know if the person they are hiring is licensed, bonded, and insured, let alone honest with integrity. It is also up to the homeowner to know what their liabilities are should someone get injured while on the property.

    Good luck with your endeavors.
    Spruce it is not people like Me I am the one who supplies all the materials and labor to do your work than wait 30 days for you to pay Me.
    Some times it takes 60 to 90 days just to get half the money.
    And just to let you know I am 75 Made very good money and have completed projects well over $ 1,5000,000.00 THAT ONLY INCLUDED sections 07240 , 09210 & 09220.as for clents had the same ones for well over 34 years.
    ALL my clents get the performance bond and the insurance.
    To this date NO ONE has had the need for it.
    ALL my materials are paid before I treceive the total amount of my bid.
    As for a change order I have never requested one unless the owner add a new requirement.
    I don't advertize all the new clents work comes by word of mouth.And to let you know I have all the work I need and have keep same crews of no less than 15 men on full time work for the past 34 years the newest crew member has been on the pay roll for 12 years the oldest for 34 years.
    At other times I have had somewhere around 45 people working full time.To close I have completed 65 buildings that are on the National Historical List Oldest 1701 newest 1841.
    To include the 2nd buildind of it's type in the USA
    The 8th most prominent in the USA.
    And one of only 3 building left of its class in the USA.
    SO as you stated I am the one that rips the clents OFF.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    nova scotia, canada
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    1,522

    Default Re: How to hire a contractor

    spruce. i understand what clarence is saying he's not talking about taking a large sum of money to simply put in his pocket. hes just talking about the enitial payment that most big companies require.

    lets not turn this into a big screaming match. different companies operate differently some guys do large scale projects in which payment is done via certain benchmarks in teh project. others operate on a small scale doing decks, bathrooms, basements where they do things based on time and materials. both systems work,
    fire up the saw and make some dust

  10. #10

    Default Re: How to hire a contractor

    This is cool, now Ill just do your ideas.. thanks

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