Thursday, November 1, 2012

What Your Contractor Really Means


Sometimes what contractors say seems completely obvious to them, but makes no sense to you. These tips should help you translate some of the euphemisms and somewhat curt statements you might hear, so that you get the most out of the client-contractor relationship.

1. Nothing. If he doesn't call you back, he's just not that into you. You don't want to chase a contractor who's too busy to return your call, unless you've given him money.

2. Let's do it my way instead. Odds are, your contractor has more experience doing things a certain way, so he may want to recommend that process. It's usually best to go with it rather than having him try something for the first time on your job.

3. I'll get started late next week. If your general contractor sets a start date, he should be able to keep it. But many times the tradesmen (plumbers, electricians, etc.) juggle several jobs at once and often have to deal with emergencies. You should expect them only to come close to their start and completion estimates.

4. The price is... Unless you're changing the scope of work, a contractor won't expect to negotiate a lump sum price quote. If you think the price is too high, get another quote for comparison. While prices vary because of differences in approaching the project or overhead costs, a contractor won't stay in business unless he prices competitively.

5. I'll do my best. There is a good chance a contract will fall short of your expectations. If you hear this, listen to your gut. Are you asking for too much? Have you added work to the scope, but asked for the project to be completed by the same date? Are you expecting a brand new look from a remodel with existing elements? There are three elements to any project: The level of quality, the price and the time it takes to complete the project. Pick two of these that are most important to you. If you need everything perfect by a certain date, be prepared to pay more. If you have a fixed budget but want a certain look, give the contractor time to be creative and make it work.

6. Sorry, I can't make a recommendation. Most contractors prefer that you work through them. If you ask your general contractor for their plumber's name and number and he gives it to you, thank them. By allowing you to work directly with a subcontractor your contractor takes a risk by giving up control of the situation. He also gives up the ability to mark up the cost of the work the plumber does, which is one of the ways contractors get paid.

7. The design needed some tweaking. Often, this means the plans were unbuildable. Sometimes what's drawn on paper just can't be built. A staircase you'd need to crawl on your knees to use, "existing" spaces that don't exist, a pocket door that would slide through a switch box and the shower valve — I've seen them all.

8. I don't think this is a good fit. If a contractor declines to quote a project it could be for a lot of reasons. Maybe he has concerns about the budget. You and your contractor will be talking a lot, so maybe he just didn't think you clicked. It could also be that he's too busy, and he won't be able to devote enough time to your project to do it right

9. We are going to need to do some value engineering. You've got caviar dreams on a cheese and cracker budget. Value engineering is when the teamthinks creatively about how to rework the project to do the same or similar scope for less, like by changing material selections.

10. Let's walk through and make a punch list. A contractor wants to know everything you need done to be satisfied with the work. Every trip to your job costs your contractor, so make an effort to come up with a complete punch list —a list of to-do items that need to be completed for the project to be considered complete — instead of sending it bit by bit over time.

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