I know there are a zillion how to articles on home improvement websites that deal with this topic but I’d like to add my two cents anyway. We meet people of all walks of life every week. We have worked in this industry in our little corner of the world for over 12 years now and I've seen some patterns that leave consumers unhappy at the end of their project. Here are my top 3 ways to have a happy construction project.
Consumer Tip #1 – NO NOT shop by price only! To many home owners fall into the lowest bid trap. All contractors are not created equal. Their experience, process, and the materials used will make the price of a project fluctuate. You may in fact find that the lowest proposed price is the best option for you. You may find that the highest price is the worst quality..... BUT you will only know this if you are comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges.
For example: If you need your front step repaired and you get three proposals (I say proposals because they are hard numbers and not akin to estimates which are a faster guessed type of price) and those proposals are $500, $1,000, and $1,500. Ok so what you need to know is why there is a price spread. Do not assume that the plan for repair is the same across the board. It may be very likely that the $500 proposal is to caulk the steps. That may be it. Just caulk. You could caulk it yourself for about $30. The $1,000 proposal may be for joint repair where that contractor is planning on repairing all the joints. This is a good thing! This is a better long term option than the $500 proposal so it will save you money over time. Now the $1,500 proposal may be repairing all the joints PLUS fixing the water issue that caused the problem in the first place. That is even better! Ideally (budget allowing) this is what you want to have done.
Proposals are not always as straight forward as I described. The caulk contractor may be the $1,000 person and the joint repair may be the $500 person because they live a mile away and the overhead is less. So to be able to compare apples to apples ask to have a description of work and materials used in the proposal. Those items need to be in the PA contract anyway so it’s not a big deal to ask for a quick summary on the proposal. Most contractors work up these numbers between work, kids, household responsibilities, emails and phone calls so it’s easy to leave it off simply to be timely in getting the price to the consumer who is often in a rushed state. Which brings me to #2…..
Consumer Tip #2 – DO NOT be in a rush! Plan early when you have a project in mind so that you can shop for the best contractor to work with. On numerous occasions we have had customers that decide on …oh say… Thursday that they want to have a chimney repaired by Sunday. So they call a list of names they find on the internet and just hire whoever has the time to do it. These are the Home Improvement Gamblers. They MAY get lucky. They MAY get a reputable person who happened to have the time to fit you in but the odds are against them. The most likely scenario here is that the consumer will find a person who is not busy, because they have a poor work history or little work history, or they will find someone whose plan is to send over an inexperienced crew member just so the job can get done and the monies collected. Do not be a Gambler. Simply plan ahead a bit. If you find you do have a more urgent need but the contractor you liked the best is busy for a few weeks ask them if they can do a short term repair to prevent more damage. It may simply need a tarp put on it or have some temporary supports put in. Maybe the temporary fix will be nominal charge (and possibly credited back in the contract) to cover costs but in the long term it will likely be money well spent…..and well spent money is spent LOCALLY.
Consumer Tip #3 – BUY LOCAL! Your local small businesses are your best bet to avoid problems. There are a number of reasons for this but I will elaborate on my top five.
A) Small local businesses care about their communities. You want to hire a person who owns a home in your general area such as your county or a neighboring county. They will have a vested interest in staying established and doing things well to maintain a good reputation. Look around you. Look for contractors you see at school functions, at local government meetings, at the local stores, at the doctor/dentist/vet, etc.
B) Do you see someone who is a good potential business? Learn about them online. Hopefully they have a website with some information. Check their PA Home Improvement Contractor status. ***Check to be sure they have NOT changed business names very often!!*** I have seen this numerous times up here. If someone changes their business name from Bill Pearn Masonry (a sole proprietor name) to Pike County Masons LLC that is OK. They upgraded from a sole proprietor to a corporation. That is certainly a normal course of business. If they change it from something like Pike County Masons LLC to something like Pocono Masons LLC be very wary. It is costly to do a lateral type change like that so it is likely that it means they went bankrupt. Now bankruptcy is not necessarily their fault. Things like injuries/illnesses and divorces can cause issues where financial reconstruction is necessary, but, I know one home improvement business up here that has changed names FIVE times in 12 years. Do not EVER hire someone like that. The nice thing about local businesses is that it is easier to look this stuff up. Out of state guys….well, you never know ……..
C) Big box stores are a rip off. Period. They will only sell you products they inventory and they only hire the lowest bidder. Then you pay their percentage markup on all of that. You’re paying a medium price for a lowest bid product.
D) Hire someone you like. Good tradespeople do not necessarily make good business people because they have been hard at work learning their trade. Good business people do not necessarily make good tradespeople because they have been learning to sell and not learning how to actually build things. You need to find a person who you like overall and whose vision is in line with yours.
E) Check references, check references, check references! You’re looking for local references with projects done over a span of years. Maybe one person had work done this year, one was last year, and one was five years ago. That is a good span because it lets you find out if the work holds up over time and if the long term customer service level is in line with what you’re looking for.
Bill Pearn Masonry Blog
Quality construction does not only build structures, it also builds: town pride, small business opportunity, beautiful neighborhoods, home equity, and ultimately better lives.
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