Construction Stress and Picking a Contractor

Picking a contractor to do work on a home is not always an easy task. The cost and time involved in some projects can rival business ventures, home purchases and other major life decisions. With this level of commitment and attention it is very common to see people get anxious or stressed.

Stress comes from the concern that something is potentially or actually reducing how well we are surviving. When we say surviving we just don’t meanfood, shelter and water. Surviving can include the quality of relationships, happiness, and other non-tangible things.

Everyone is different and what one person may find stressful another may not. The level of stress that exists is as variable as the number of individuals there are. The factors that form what we think are survival can also vary depending upon how one was raised, education, previous experiences and more.

I always remember something a client told me several years ago. He was finishing a new home and we were going to do his hardscape outside. He was explaining to me how the house had all the latest energy saving features - solar, low water usage fixtures, reclaimed water systems, etc. He was also talking to me about the Italian tile and the way they picked the color themes. He said that he and his wife had to make hundreds of decisions to arrive at where they were. It really was a fantastic property.

He then began explaining to me what a great relationship he and his wife had. How they had been married for almost 30 years and that they got along really well. He then said to me “ Brian, we have had such a great relationship that we never really argued once in all the 30 years we were together – until we built this house”

He went on to tell me about the arguments they had regarding costs, what material to choose, how they had to schedule their lives living between homes and all the other factors that go into a large construction project. From the way it sounded it seemed like they were cursed with that modern mental affliction called ConstructionousInsanitous.

So how important is picking the right contractor in this process?

The answer to that question varies as well.

We of course all want to make the best decision. We want the guy who is going to do the best job at the best possible price. We don’t want the Smelly Plumber, the Confused Framer, the Color Blind Painter or the Absent Minded Electrician.

If you are just replacing a faucet and the contractor shows up late, is grouchy and does a poor job, your loss is maybea $100 service call. For many people it is more of an annoyance than anything else. You give him a one star on Yelp and move on. But what if you are remodeling a house, or building an addition or redoing the landscaping on your whole property? The potential stress scale goes up quite a bit.

In these situations how you go about choosing a contractor has to be a more thought out and better researched.

5 good steps to take are: (in order)

1. Judge Your Own Personal Reaction:

By this I mean how did you feel being around this person? Did they make you feel good or uneasy? I list this one first as I think it is the most important. If you did not get a good vibe or the guy makes you feel stupid - pass. It doesn’t matter if he selling his top service for peanuts. It won’t be worth it. Even if your neighbor, friend, family member invites him to holiday getaways because they got along so well, forget it. The reason is that this is your house, your life and your reality. What may be good for one person may not be good for another. Even in contracting. Never comprise your own point of view. With all the things life has to offer none is more important than your own integrity. Don’t bother spending your time with the rest of the steps if he doesn’t pass this first one.

2. Check Licensing:

This is a no brainer. You should start by finding out if the guy is even a contractor in the first place. You can usually find the contractor number on a business card or bid. If the license number is not there watch out. This is usually a sign of a non-licensed contractor. In California, by law the license number must be properly display on business materials.

You then can check the license number on the website for the contractor board/agency of your state. In California the website will also tell you whether the contractor has a current Worker’s Compensation policy and current bond.

3. Check Insurance:

Most of the contractors who are willing to pay the price to carry proper insurance are also willing to do other things that are not always easy in business. Those are the guys you want. Ask for the documentation.

4. References:

Checking references is a tried and true method when it comes to picking a contractor. The question is how many references should the contractor have?

Every good contractor should at least be batting 80%. Meaning that their list of references should have at least 80% of all their clients on it.

If he has been in business 10 years and only has a handful of references be wary. This could be a sign he has a few happy customers and a lot of unhappy ones as well.

If the guy is newer in business and he does not have a ton of references you will have to go more on your personal interaction step 1. Sometimes newer contractors are very eager to make customers happy to gain a reputation and they will go above and beyond, so don’t count them out.

5. Check Price:

I list thislast as it is the least important of these steps. Of course like all things this depends upon who you are. For some this is the most important concern when picking a contractor.

I have been to multi-million dollar properties where I could see evidence of shoddy work everywhere and to my surprise the client did not seem to overly concerned about it. As a contractor this is usually a sign that the potential customer is most concerned with price. If it is one bad thing among many good things than possibly it was just bad luck with that one contractor. But if there are several things that just don’t measure up, well, this almost always means poor choices driven by price concerns. I usually pass on these projects unless the customer tells me they have seen the error of their ways and they want good contracting from now on. The reason is the client will only want the cheapest bid up front or try and get freebies in the middle of the project.

With that said price of course is still important. I don’t want to overpay for work done on my home either.

I have seen bids by competing companies whose work I know is sub-standard to mine but their price was twice as much. In situations like this the exchange is not good and you could simply be paying too muchfor what you are getting.

Another sign of a good contractor is that he will actually offer up money saving suggestions if the pricing is coming out above your budget. It shows that you are dealing with someone who is looking at things from your point of view and your interests. Dishonest contractors just don’t do that.

Some people use the middle road approach. They throw out the highest and lowest bid and pick the middle. If I were a betting man I would put money on this method vs others. It is not fool proof but is probably the best way to get a job at a fair price.

There is no such thing as stress free construction. Even the best of us face some of level of it. That’s because it is a part of life. However, by following some simple guidelines like those listed out in this article you can end up with a good contractor and a better quality of life.

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