Understanding Your Contractor

By: ClientDirect

On average, a homeowner in the U.S. spends $5,000 annually on home improvement projects. That’s a lot of contractors and conversations that could go the wrong way if you don’t understand “contractor lingo.” Here are tips to help you be successful with your next renovation project.

When He Says Nothing At All

Like the old adage goes, if he doesn’t call you back, he’s just not that into you. If a contractor is too busy to return your call, then he’s probably not the one for you. Unless, you’ve already paid him, if he doesn’t call you back, then move on to the next contractor.

Estimated Start/Stop Times

Chances are that your job isn’t the only one your contractor – and his tradesmen (plumbers, electricians, etc.) – is handling. Therefore, he may run into emergencies or changes in plans at other jobs that can impact yours, so you should expect your contractor only to come close to his start and completion estimates.

The Price is Right

While prices vary because of differences in approaching the project or overhead costs, generally, 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.

I’ll Do My Best

There is a good chance your 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.

Making 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 risks 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.

Tweaking the Design

If your contractor says that the design “needs 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, or a pocket door that would slide through a switch box and the shower valve, for example.

Finding the Right Fit

A contractor may decline to quote a project for a lot of reasons. It could be that he has concerns about the budget, or maybe he just didn’t think the two of 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.

Value Engineering

Value engineering is when the team thinks creatively about how to rework the project to do the same or similar scope for less money, like by changing material selections.

Take Me at My Word

Agree to everything up front. A detailed contract should be signed with all the specifics spelled out with a price range, a timeline when the project should be completed, and what upgrades are going to be done with the brands of the items being installed. If the extra touches aren’t in the contract you may have live without them or pay more money for them.

You Don’t Need a Permit

Proper building and remodeling permits are required for most types of home repair and improvement projects. Having a permit gives the homeowners an extra set of eyes on the project. Building officials are allowed to pop in and make sure all safety standards are being met.

I’m in Charge

Oftentimes, contractors have retired the ol’ tool belt and subcontract the work out. Make sure you find out who will be running the day-to-day work. If there is going to be a foreman onsite instead of the contractor, meet him ahead of time while working on a current site to get a feel of how he runs a project.

Pay Upfront

Don’t let a contractor fool you. You should only pay $1,000 or 10 percent of the cost, whichever is less. In some states, that’s the legal maximum. Check with your home state to find what the legal maximum is.

Selling extra materials for a bargain

Driveway paving companies are notorious for doing this. Typically they have extra materials left over from another job site that can’t be returned and offer you a deal that’s too good to be true. Accepting the offer is a dicey move since you weren’t able to check references or know who to contact if something goes wrong.

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