Not all contractors are going to treat you fairly or with respect. Shocking eh? Make sure you do your research and explain what you want them to do — exactly what you want them to do. If they don’t, stand firm and have them fix it properly. Although it may seem obvious, here are some thoughts that might help the process go smoothly.
1. It’s your money and dammit, you work hard for that money
Protect it, reasonably. A rule-of-thumb is to take the material costs and multiple by 2-3x and your contractor should be within the ball park. This is of course a guide, because some projects are going to be more or less complex and impact cost. Your contractor may have connections and be able to find materials cheaper, but we found that some online websites were cheaper.
Avoid allowances – a line item in the contractor’s bid for something that’s yet to be determined. For example, contractors like to use a number for fixtures, or a tub. Our experience is that these prices tend to be significantly lower than the quality of item we would put in our home (we had a contractor put $100 for lighting; a simple pendant light can cost 2-3x that). This can also make comparing bids challenging.
2. You’re in charge, but be a good customer
This is a business transaction afterall, but you should be starting from a position of faith / trust that your contractor will deliver. If something does go wrong, have some conviction behind what you want your contractor to do. If there’s something they say that can’t be done, like the size of grout line you want (a friends experience), do some research. Don’t end up with something that you’re going to be unhappy with.
Also, keep a log of decisions that have been made. Even if it doesn’t affect scope, schedule, or budget, it’s highly recommended to keep a log. If there is a change, don’t panic, talk it through with your contractor and do your research.
3. Have a clear plan of action
Many contractors will provide you with a contract – I can’t provide you with legal advice (not an attorney), but make sure you read through it. Don’t be shy about asking for changes, work warranties, explicitly spelling out items they are providing, and work they are doing. The contract is what you’ll have to rely on when something goes wrong. We once drew a sketch of how we wanted our tile lines to look – when we inspected the work and the tile didn’t match, we were glad we had it so that it could be fixed at the contractors expense.
4. Understand the season and market.
You might have a hard time finding a contractor if it’s a hot market – that means you’re going to pay a premium and you’re likely going to be on a longer schedule. Contractors also might be less likely to let you help on the project.
5. Be reasonable with your payments.
Your contractor will likely ask for some money upfront to purchase materials – there is a lot of upfront costs in preparing for your project. Be reasonable though – you contractor doesn’t need the majority of the fee. I have read that 10% is a good amount, but please do your research and what feels comfortable. Hold enough payment at the end of the project so that your contractor returns to fix the punch-list items (but be reasonable). I suggest approaching it with thinking through how much you think it would cost to bring someone else in to finish the work.
6. Drop in and Check the Work.
Don’t be shy, it’s your home after all. If you see something you don’t like, ask them to correct it politely. It can also help you notice if something isn’t being done the way you wanted it and correct it early.
7. Get permits.
They make sure the work is up to code and in the Puget Sound area they aren’t “break the bank” expensive. You’ll hear stories of contractors claiming they know more than inspectors, etc, (we had two projects that failed inspection and both times our electrician had to come show the inspector how they were wrong – we love our electrician), but it makes sure the work is up-to-code and there’s a record of who did the work.
Have more suggestions on how to deal with your contractor or what to share some experiences / lessons learned – please leave a comment below.