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Contractor’s Tips: 10 Things Your Contractor Might Not Tell You

A contractor and a client can have a complicated relationship.
When you’re dealing with your home, sensitive and incredibly important issues arise.
While communication is the key, there might be some things we contractors aren’t saying.
Sometimes there just isn’t time to explain, sometimes we’re worried you’ll take it the wrong way, and sometimes we just have a lot on our mind.

Here’s a contractor’s point of view on what yours might not be telling you.


1. We want to make you happy, if we can figure out how

There are many details on a project that are not cut and dried, with multiple possible results. One person wants to see the brushstrokes on a painted cabinet, while another considers them a mistake that needs to be corrected. Your top priority might be something most other people don’t care about. Sometimes what you think is obvious and clear is anything but. Multiply this by a thousand details and you begin to see why the process of getting to know you and your wishes is a challenge. Bear with us and understand that if we end up doing something that doesn’t make you happy, it doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t try — and we will keep trying until we get it right.


2. We are privy to the details of your life, but we’re not that interested

Your friends probably don’t spend eight hours a day in your house for three months and climb into a closet full of your clothes (to find the shutoff for the tub). You could argue that your contractor knows you better than your friends. Except for one thing: We are not trying to get to know you personally, except as it pertains to our job. So we may be climbing through your closet, but we have a job to do, so we’re not wasting time eavesdropping or checking out your letterman jacket. We’ll keep it professional if you do. If you forget to pick up your underwear or empty the ashtray piled high, we’ll look the other way.


3. We might not really like your idea; we’re just saying we do

We’ve been doing this too long to sweat the small stuff. If it’s what you want and it’s not dangerous or a terrible investment, we’re not going to argue the point. There are too many things to discuss to get bogged down by everything.
If we just think it’s silly, we’ll get to work anyway. After all, it’s not our house — you’re the one who lives there.
If you want our opinion, ask! We’ll be happy to share.


4. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose (money)

The most important thing to a contractor is reputation. There is a lot of risk involved in taking on a building project, and sometimes things don’t go our way. A good builder will not burden you with the knowledge that he is losing money on your project if isn’t your fault — or if it is your fault but he doesn’t think you can help it. If we bid the project wrong or make costly mistakes, we will continue to do the best job we can and complete the project properly. We’re a patient lot.
If you think we’re frustrated, well, we might be. But there’s always the next project, and doing a good job on yours might be what lands us that project.


5. We like you; we just have a lot on our minds

We wouldn’t be working for you if we didn’t like you. There’s too much at stake (see point 4) to work with people we don’t click with. If we seem curt sometimes, we’re probably just preoccupied with the details of your project.
If we stop chatting so we we can get back to work, don’t let it hurt your feelings; we just want to get the job done so you’ll like us at the end of the project, too.


6. We might not be a good investment unless you love our work

Payback time is not always there. Your ‘green’ roof will reduce your cooling costs and extend the life of your roof, but if you don’t find it beautiful, it might not be the way you want to spend your money. As a general rule, the next person to buy your house will not pay you as much for the kitchen as you paid us to renovate it. So renovate because it makes your life more comfortable, convenient and beautiful, and because you love how remodeling can change a house for the better.
If you look just at the raw numbers, you should insulate the attic, replace the water heater when it breaks and run those ugly kitchen cabinets into the ground.


7. It’s a hard job, but we love it

There’s a reason there’s no Starbucks of custom home remodeling. It’s a difficult job that takes the personal attention of committed individuals who work well together and are willing to take risks to make a good but far from amazing living (see point 9). It’s good to tackle a couple DIY projects yourself to give you a sense of the physicality of our job and the frustrations we encounter. Every house is a new set of challenges, which brings forth our blood, sweat and tears.
But when those challenges result in an attractive and functional project, we can’t help but come back for more.


8. We’re not rich, but we wouldn’t do anything else

If you decide to tackle a large remodel, odds are you’ll be surprised at how much it costs. It is going to be more expensive than you originally guessed — possibly two or three times as much. When you are writing checks for $20,000 at a time, you will be tempted to think that building can’t possibly cost this much and your contractor must be pocketing huge sums and outfitting the pool cabanas at his or her private island retreat with big-screen TVs. A legitimate contractor pays huge sums in overhead costs that are hard to imagine if you’ve never shopped for liability insurance in a line of work where people routinely wield spinning blades and guns that shoot nails. We make enough money to keep us coming back for more, but if it wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t do it.


9. Ten percent overhead and 10 percent profit are a myth

Somewhere along the line, the 10 percent number got into people’s minds. The overhead for a remodel is significantly more than 10 percent. If “profit” meant the money left after paying non-field staff and owners, that would be great, but it doesn’t. Ten percent might be enough to pay the aforementioned team members, but it definitely doesn’t leave any profit for taking on a risky project. Let the market set the price of work in your area. If you think the price you were quoted was too high, get other quotes. If you set requirements for certain percentages, we’ll just shift numbers around.
We are not going to work for free, but we can’t charge more than our peers and get away with it for long.


10. We did find money under the floorboards, and we’re not sharing

Well, I never have, but I did hear the old contractor’s tale about a guy who found $20,000 while working on a house he bought to flip. The best things I’ve found were old bottles and nice wide old-growth boards. If your contractor buys a boat and sails off to the Caribbean in the middle of the job, it’s possible that demo went really well.
Most of the time, though, we’re pretty excited to make a bookshelf out of the wood we salvaged from that wall we knocked down in your place.

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