Join Early Retirement Today
Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Hiring a contractor, looking for advice
Old 09-15-2009, 07:33 PM   #1
Moderator
MichaelB's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Rocky Inlets
Posts: 24,406
Hiring a contractor, looking for advice

We're going to start a couple of projects at home - kitchen and basement - and we'll need a contractor. I'm getting estimates now. Any tips or advice for choosing or managing the project? Thanks in advance.
__________________

__________________
MichaelB is offline   Reply With Quote
Join the #1 Early Retirement and Financial Independence Forum Today - It's Totally Free!

Are you planning to be financially independent as early as possible so you can live life on your own terms? Discuss successful investing strategies, asset allocation models, tax strategies and other related topics in our online forum community. Our members range from young folks just starting their journey to financial independence, military retirees and even multimillionaires. No matter where you fit in you'll find that Early-Retirement.org is a great community to join. Best of all it's totally FREE!

You are currently viewing our boards as a guest so you have limited access to our community. Please take the time to register and you will gain a lot of great new features including; the ability to participate in discussions, network with our members, see fewer ads, upload photographs, create a retirement blog, send private messages and so much, much more!

Old 09-15-2009, 07:52 PM   #2
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
travelover's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 9,871
No money in advance.
__________________

__________________
Yes, I have achieved work / life balance.
travelover is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-15-2009, 08:37 PM   #3
Moderator
Sarah in SC's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Charleston, SC
Posts: 13,456
Try to imagine that this is a person you are going to be very intimate with for several months. Do you like them? Trust them? Do you think you can handle disagreements with them? Go with your gut on this. It has to be someone you can see eye-to-eye with from the start. Look for clues to reliability--drop by a jobsite if you can, check out the subs--do they look busy? Does he/she seem to command respect from workers? Is the jobsite reasonably clean?

I once hired a guy who was $150 cheaper on a small drywall project at our old house. He was squirrely right from the start and took forever (and I mean forever) to do the job, drank a 12 pack every day, and basically stalked me the whole time. I desperately didn't want to be in the house when he was working, but he wouldn't work unless I was there.
Total nightmare, and I should have gone with my gut and hired the nice family man who was looking for extra money for his kids' Christmas. Live and learn.
But I have some very interesting stories about "Don the drywall man" and how he was sent to earth as an Angel to teach people about drywall. I'm not even kidding here.
__________________
“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching.”
Gerard Arthur Way

Sarah in SC is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-15-2009, 08:42 PM   #4
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
harley's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Following the nice weather
Posts: 6,418
Definitely get proof of insurance and bonding. Make sure to get a detailed written estimate, and a signed contract. Check the BBB. Maybe join Angie's list for a month to check them out. Don't try to save a buck by cutting corners, you'll pay for it later(probably). Get references, and call them. Don't hire Don the Drywall Man. Good luck.
__________________
"Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement." - Will Rogers, or maybe Sam Clemens
DW and I - FIREd at 50 (7/06), living off assets
harley is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-15-2009, 08:53 PM   #5
Thinks s/he gets paid by the post
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 4,764
Last guy we had do work on the house never bothered cleaning up. Wood pieces and a broken ladder we had to take care of. When dealing with the guy he never gave any indication of doing something like that. Wish I could give you good information. Either Im terrible at judging character or that is how it goes.

I suspect once some of these guys are paid. See ya.


EDIT Id like to add. We found one guy who did everything right at a good price. He is on our list for any future work. Wish I knew what to do different to have found him in the first place.
__________________
Notmuchlonger is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-15-2009, 08:59 PM   #6
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
Moemg's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Sarasota,fl.
Posts: 10,029
I've had good luck going through Lowe's or Home Depot . They all showed up and did the work without any problems .
__________________
Moemg is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-15-2009, 09:02 PM   #7
Thinks s/he gets paid by the post
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 4,764
Quote:
Originally Posted by Moemg View Post
I've had good luck going through Lowe's or Home Depot . They all showed up and did the work without any problems .
At times I wish our house was close to either one of those. However, being up in Tahoe we are not close enough for either to make it work cost wise.
__________________
Notmuchlonger is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-15-2009, 09:12 PM   #8
Moderator Emeritus
Bestwifeever's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 16,372
Sarah made some good points. Drive around and see who has signs out in their yard. Also ask other people--they might not have had work done but might know someone who has.
__________________
“Would you like an adventure now, or would you like to have your tea first?” J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Bestwifeever is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-15-2009, 11:18 PM   #9
Recycles dryer sheets
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 406
OP. I just finished updating a house here in Palo Alto, CA. First time I got quotes from contractors. One Real Estate broker gave me her contractors. I also, used the Roofing Company recommendations.

This is what I learned.

1. Contractors are very slow. They come and go at their convenience. They always want 1/3 to start. and Payment as the work progrersses.
There is a wide range in their quotes.

2. The Contractors, just hire subcontractors to do much of the work. ie. electrical, plumbing, etc.

3. I ended up saving money by, getting some of the work done by going directly to the individual business. ie. I had the windows and patio door replace by finding the window/patio company myself.

I got quotes from 6 different companies. Range from $4800 to $6500.
I checked the BBB and the lowest priced company, ($4800) had the best rating, A+. I used them and the work was perfect.

I used the contractor for just a portion of the remodel work. The rest I either did myself, or found a business to do it. A lot of work, check BBB, check license, etc.

Also, ask around for recommendations, even then, you are not guaranteed the best price, but at least you know the work is satisfactory if a friend gives a recommendation.
__________________
wolf is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-16-2009, 01:07 AM   #10
Full time employment: Posting here.
Urchina's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Central Coast, California
Posts: 891
We found a fabulous contractor to do our kitchen remodel.

He was recommended to us by our locally-owned, independent lumber and hardware store. We ordered our cabinetry through them, and when I asked if they recommended any contractors to install it she gave me three cards. Our guy was one of them.

We adore him. Nice, timely, never late, comes in on budget, listens well, hires great subs. He's going to be doing our bathrooms later this year.

I'd go with the recommendations of a local independent lumberyard -- they know the local contractors, they probably hear about them through the grapevine.

Good luck!
__________________
"You'd be surprised at how much it costs to look this cheap." -- Dolly Parton
Urchina is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-16-2009, 09:13 AM   #11
Thinks s/he gets paid by the post
Rustward's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 1,572
There have been lots of good suggestions.

A couple more:
Check references for similar work done elsewhere.
Put a firm completion date in the contract.
__________________
Rustward is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-16-2009, 09:49 AM   #12
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
freebird5825's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: East Nowhere, 43N Latitude, NY
Posts: 9,017
Quote:
Originally Posted by Urchina View Post
He was recommended to us by our locally-owned, independent lumber and hardware store. We ordered our cabinetry through them, and when I asked if they recommended any contractors to install it she gave me three cards. Our guy was one of them.
A flip side to this...and a possible bogie to watch out for.
We lined up our usual contractor first, and then went shopping for the cabinets so we weren't tied to any one kitchen cabinet supplier. We decided on a local place, who was told up front that we already had a contractor and who it was. The store guy and the contractor knew each other from high school and had worked together before like this. No problem, right?
We had already designed the layout, and had the store guy do his thing with the computer layout software with respect to the individual cabinet sizes. The contractor and the store guy measured our walls, in person, at the same time, in the same room, just to be sure. They measured, I recorded, doublechecking numbers with both each time.
Sure enough, the walls were not perfectly vertical and one of the cabinets just wouldn't fit. The store guy proceeded to blame the contractor and gave me a hard time about re-ordering a slightly smaller version. A 2 week w*rk stoppage delay ensued waiting for the replacement cabinet, with lots of finger pointing and grandstanding by the store guy.
All ended up well once I had a heart-to-heart with the store manager.
__________________
"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." - Walt Disney
freebird5825 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-16-2009, 10:55 AM   #13
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
travelover's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 9,871
Quote:
Originally Posted by Moemg View Post
I've had good luck going through Lowe's or Home Depot . They all showed up and did the work without any problems .
I had Home Depot install carpeting and it was a nightmare. I took a day off work, so I wanted desperately to get it done that day.

Highlights - installer showed up late with his wife, who slept in his van with the doors open, in my driveway.

Installer doesn't bring enough underlayment and asks me to go and find some

Job finally finished around midnight, not right, but I needed to get some sleep so I could go to w*rk early the next day.

Complaints to store manager and home office not even acknowledged.
__________________
Yes, I have achieved work / life balance.
travelover is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-16-2009, 11:41 AM   #14
Moderator Emeritus
Nords's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Oahu
Posts: 26,616
Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelB View Post
We're going to start a couple of projects at home - kitchen and basement - and we'll need a contractor. I'm getting estimates now. Any tips or advice for choosing or managing the project? Thanks in advance.
1. Read "Managing a Renovation". I can't recommend this book strongly enough for home-improvement virgins-- it'll help you develop a process and a structure that you're comfortable with. The author goes overboard in a couple areas-- I'm not advocating that you meet contractors at a local bank for handing over checks and witnessing their receipt signatures-- but the book goes into great detail about a very good process for figuring out what you want (instead of abdicating to the contractor) and how to handle the inevitable problems/disputes. To put this another way, you definitely do not want to be kicking yourself read this book after your renovation is complete. The book's retail price is an insignificant number next to the amount of money you're about to spend.

2. If you're not already doing so, start watching HGTV and/or DIY Network to learn the vocabulary, styles, and innovations. (It's faster if you can record on a DVR and cherrypick the traumatic interesting parts.) Read their websites and watch their online videos. I strongly recommend "Holmes on Homes" when it's in reruns, "This Old House", "Divine Design", or anything with a kitchen renovation. "Property Ladder" is a good show for "how not to do a renovation".

3. A big contractor (with more employees or subs) is generally better than a small one. You're less likely to be shunted aside when a bigger customer opportunity arises. They also have a bigger community reputation to maintain and (sadly) they're probably better at customer service/litigation issues.

4. Unless you've run permits before, it's worth every penny to let the contractor do it for you (and charge you for it). Even if you've run them before you may not care to repeat the experience.

5. Consider hiring a designer before you even think about a contractor. You'd much rather have a set of plans & recommendations (and the contractor would much rather work with you) before the demolition starts.

6. Go big on infrastructure before the walls are closed up. You'll never have enough electrical receptacles, CATV and Internet cables, cabinet lighting, and lighting/ceiling fan fixtures. If the basement is damp now, then make sure that problem is permanently solved before the walls are closed up. Otherwise you're just wasting time & money.

7. More kitchen renovations have been derailed by cabinet problems than by anything else. If you can keep your current cabinets, or at least re-use the boxes and reface the rest, then you'll all be much happier.

8. If you're in a community association or a condo then make sure you have the paperwork and permissions.

9. Pay attention to the "completion notice" process. Publishing your notice in the local newspapers is about the only foolproof way to protect yourself against the liens of disgruntled (perhaps rightly so) subcontractors.

10. Your local customs may vary on up-front money and in-process payments, and there may be local consumer-protection legislation on the practice (especially in California). You may also want to always ask if there's a discount for cash or for acting as your own supervisory contractor. I'm not suggesting that it's always a good idea to go those routes, but it can save 5-20% on the total cost.
__________________
*
*

The book written on E-R.org, "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement", on sale now! For more info see "About Me" in my profile.
I don't spend much time here anymore, so please send me a PM. Thanks.
Nords is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-16-2009, 04:40 PM   #15
Moderator
MichaelB's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Rocky Inlets
Posts: 24,406
Lots of good recommendations.

I ordered the book, will read over the weekend. Used angies list to select the contractors, all established in this area. Will check BBB and get proof of insurance and bond. Written estimates only. No cabinet work – we’ve decided to keep the current ones after getting blown away by seeing replacement costs.

Part of the job is to re-work what the previously owner did to the basement. Low quality work in general, and I am quite suspicious of the electrical – very amateurish.

Going to look up the HOA regs. Getting a designer to look at what we want to do for feedback and suggestions. And no, we’re not gonna call Don.

I must say, this board is an amazing resource.
__________________
MichaelB is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-16-2009, 09:16 PM   #16
Thinks s/he gets paid by the post
thefed's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 2,203
You may want to attempt being your own general contractor. It will save you money, and generally result in a better job if you pay attention.

Go with your gut.

Call from a restricted number. If they dont answer, i dont leave a message...I try back one or 2 more times and that's it. bad contractors (and people who dont pay their bills) dont like to answer restricted numbers. Anyone who answers the phone "yeah" is out. If I say "hi, can i talk to dan" (assuming the name of the co. is dan's flooring...or it says it in the ad) and their response is "who's this?" ...NOPE! if they promise to call you back by xx time or xx date and dont...DO NOt follow up. if they cant do that on time, dont bother. if they are late for the estimate and dont call in advance....NOPE.

Beware of the guy who is tooooo nice....tooooo accomodating. A good contractor will be respectful, prompt, and confident enough in his product and pricing that he wont try to talk you into it.

Try to find someone that a frend or family member is happy with. References are worth NOTHING. If the guy has 10 recent pissed off customers, and 2 good ones...who's he gonna give you the number to? maybe he'll include mom for number 3!

Get multiple estimates of course, with the same exact specs.

Consider buying materials yourself. It eliminates the profit on that end, and a lot of contractors will be more than happy to go over the material list and not have to bother with picking the stuff up

Go with your gut

Ask questions.

GOOGLE....educate yourself. If you appear to know what's going on, they might take you more seriously.

Offer them something to drink. When they are there for the estimate and when they are there to work. Lunch even. They WILL work harder if you are kind.
__________________
thefed is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-17-2009, 12:41 AM   #17
Thinks s/he gets paid by the post
Rustward's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 1,572
Quote:
Originally Posted by thefed View Post
...
References are worth NOTHING. If the guy has 10 recent pissed off customers, and 2 good ones...who's he gonna give you the number to? maybe he'll include mom for number 3!...
Interesting -- and on the same track -- when we were selecting a homebuilder, we actually visited the referenced jobs (homes, 3 of them) with owners present, and were pleased with our selection of homebuilder. While the homebuilder did not achieve 100% perfection on our home, we gave the builder an A+ for what he did on our house (and that mirrors the references), and that is how our house turned out for us and still is, 17 years later.

A few years later, we had some patio work done by a different contractor, using just phone references, and while OK (maybe a B or B- or C+) we were not totally satisfied -- but we're kinda OK with it.

I guess the take-away from this is that if the work is really important, go to the reference sites and talk to the owners.

Of course all this depends upon how much time you are willing to put into due diligence which might be a function of how much you are looking at spending.
__________________
Rustward is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-17-2009, 09:36 AM   #18
Recycles dryer sheets
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 160
When I worked on some contracting, we had a policy to bid on every job, but we would inflate our bids (sometimes outrageously) when we were otherwise busy and really didn't need the extra work. This highest bids are not necessarily the best quality. Surprisingly, we sometimes got these jobs. I worked one job for the state that we REALLY didn't want. But at 3x the normal rate, we were willing to take it. I still have no idea why that bid was accepted. (This was a very small outfit, so I know no kickbacks or graft were involved. Just laziness on the part of the purchaser I believe).
__________________
quietman is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-18-2009, 08:13 AM   #19
Thinks s/he gets paid by the post
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: No. California
Posts: 1,600
I'm in California and used this website to check a contractor before hiring him. It has the info that a contract should have and advises what is legal for the contractor to charge up front and during the work. I found many contractors wanted more up front money than was legal.

Contractors State License Board

Hopefully your state has some guidelines online as well.
__________________

__________________
KB is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply


Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Possible position as a Fed contractor? Purron Life after FIRE 14 11-16-2008 08:01 AM
Salary, W-2, or contractor? SecondCor521 FIRE and Money 18 07-10-2008 07:40 PM
Retirement savings options for W2 contractor? brewer12345 FIRE and Money 11 03-05-2008 06:45 AM
Fair price from contractor? saluki9 Other topics 25 04-11-2007 09:39 PM
Contractor problems...what would you do? cute fuzzy bunny Other topics 17 05-23-2004 09:19 AM

 

 
All times are GMT -6. The time now is 12:02 AM.
 
Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.