Getting the most from your Contractor


Getting the most from your contractor.
by James Miller

1) You must accurately communicate the work to be done.

I always do this in writing, unless I am working with someone who has a proven track record with me.

While it isn’t a contract or true “specification”, I usually work up a word document that I later print out, or turn into a PDF if I am e-mailing it. I use a lot of pictures and text box call outs on these pictures to indicate what I want done.

See this Adobe PDF example of a siding project we contracted out.

I find that this document clearly outlines what we want to accomplish and eliminates the confusion that can often times happen when you try to verbally describe the work to be done.

It takes me a bit more time to create a document like this, but I can only imagine the costs it has saved me by not having to stop the contractor’s crew and ask them to rework something.

Please keep in mind that the above example document is not a contract, but rather an outline of the way we want the work preformed. I have no idea how much merit it would carry if you end up in court with a contractor, but I am guessing it is better than nothing at all.

2) Always use a contract.

I have to admit I do break this rule if I have a some proven experience with a certain contractor and the job to be preformed is relatively small, like fixing a stoop, or putting on a screen door.  If the job is larger, like building a deck, or pouring a foundation, I will certainly use a contract, regardless of my history with the contractor.

TIP: The contract you use should contain incentives for finishing on time or before, and penalties for each day, after the completion date, that they are late.

3) If it is not working out with the contractor, get rid of them.

Before the siding job on the 602 W. Division property, I had a different contractor wrap the windows in aluminum. The bid came in at $1200, which was a very good bid for the amount of windows we had (28 I believe).  He didn’t really have a contract, but instead tried to get me to sign a one page document which only outlined the terms of payment and not the work to be done.

I wrote up my own contract for the window wrapping and agreed to his unheard of 50% down payment requirement, mainly just to get him to use my contract.

This was a mistake my part as he wrapped about 25% of the windows, and then the started finding excuses to not do the rest.

I personally think that he just didn’t like the cold weather.

I should have gotten rid of him and moved onto the next guy, as it took him four months to finish a job that most other contractors could pull of in a weekend.

He also used my dumpster to get rid of building materials from a project that he was working on at home.  It was easy to figure out who had done it as he was stupid enough to throw away his junk mail which had his name and home address,  along with his construction debris.

I am a pretty generous guy. If someone asks to throw something in dumpster we have, I will usually let them throw away just about anything.

This guy threw away a large amount of material, without asking, and when I called him on it he lied and said it wasn’t his.

Not exactly a class act if you ask me.  It also pissed me off.

I could have saved myself a lot of pain if had I gotten rid of him right away.

Instead, I held out hope for his reassuring promises that were continually punctuated with excuses.  He eventually stopped taking my calls and only finished the work when I filed a small claims action against him.

When the work was done, he demanded payment the same day he finished.

I am certain, if I had not had a contract he would have never completed the job.

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