General contractors - how to earn my business

Easy: write stuff down. Here are the guys I did not hire:

GC for a kitchen renovation: I was initially very encouraged, as they guy spent 3 hours go over fine details, climbed around the attic to look at structure, wiring, etc. I figured at the end he’d write it all down, we’d agree on the scope, and he’d come back with a price. Nope. Told me he had it all in his head. Estimate came back missing half the work, and when I called him to discuss he had no recollection of half of it.

Electrical contractor: same thing, even though I asked “don’t you want to write this down” as we had numbers aspects of work. I told him I wanted an itemized estimate. Quote came back: “$1500 - electrical work”. Told him so deal unless he itemized it so we agreed on the scope of the work.

Tree removal service: spent a half hour walking the yard, pointing out trees I had already marked, 8 in total. He quoted a price which I told him I’d think about, could he put it in writing and confirm what was included? “Sure thing.” Estimate comes back at the price he quoted, but only half the work we discussed.

Are my expectations too high?

Sounds like you picked a few lemons. We had some major work done in the house, several trees removed, and also hired someone to move a shed for us and build up a new foundation where we wanted it to go. All provided us with written estimates that spelled out what we wanted done, and it was all done as we wanted. So, no, I don’t think your expectations are too high.

My husband is a contractor. NO your expectations are NOT too high. You dodged a bullet with all three. Your expectations are completely reasonable, sane, and conform to what a professional contractor would provide for you. What the other three guys provided for you is basically the stuff that home improvement project nightmares are spawned from.

Yup. Be sure you’re getting your contractor from your State’s Registrar, or whatever licensing agency exists in your state. So you know they’re bonded and pay their taxes, and you can check for complaints, liens etc.

But 1 question–for a kitchen remo, do you have plans? You should, I would think.

Oh, and also, make sure your contractors will be pulling all necessary permits. Don’t allow them to blow that off.

Do not include “will leave work-site broom clean” and then leave it a disaster. We will not contact you for future work.

I always write up the scope of work prior to the contractor arriving for the estimate, and send it to the contractor after the initial visit with a request to price it by line item. If I get an incomplete estimate in return, I’ll give him one more shot to get it right and then write him off as a poor choice. But then I used to be a construction contract administrator and my wife was a commercial property manager. :cool:

It’s unfortunate that some contractors assume that you know nothing about the business and that you’ll sign anything they send along. Stand your ground. You need a line item bid so you can compare with other bidders on the work.

Jeez Louise moneybags, can’t you just buy a new broom?

How to not earn my business:
Show up over an hour late for the initial meeting.
When I request a more detailed quote, show up over an hour late AGAIN.
Quote me work contrary that what I aske
d for (I wanted to replace a sliding door with a french door - he quoted me a new sliding door). Take the same measurements from last time.
Put your folders and other papers down on my pool table.
Yeah…he didn’t get the job.

Thinking back to the guy who didn’t get to put a new roof on our house - he quoted from the driveway!! We have a ranch, mostly rectangular with a section that’s bumped up to extend over the front porch. Granted, it looks to be pretty simple and straightforward, but how professional is it to look up, take a couple of overall dimensions, and give a quote?

The guy we ended up hiring spent a fair amount of time up there, walking back and forth, I assume to feel the condition of the plywood beneath. In fact, he and his company not only did the roof, but did gutters, siding, new windows, and trim, plus put in a solar tube that we decided to add while the job was ongoing. No high pressure, and he answered all of our questions, plus he showed up at the job site to check on his crews often enough to keep us happy. And, yes, we got a very detailed quote in writing with no surprises. Almost 6 years later, and we’re still pleased with his work.

I did some contracting work for several years and would never list line items. I used a line item charge to cost out my jobs but when I placed a bid I bid on the entire job. I would itemize some options but never an entire job.

I’ve looked at contractors for multiple work.

  1. If I indicate that the house has high ceilings, extra-wide windows and hydraulic floors* and that I want to keep all three (the ceilings need painting and the windows need replacing), don’t spout “we’ll change the floors to porcelain tile” as soon as I close the door.
    Ibid for “what horribly high ceilings, we’ll lower them by at least half a meter” - no you won’t. Lower your ceilings, leave mine be.
  • thick, dyed-concrete tiles
  1. don’t keep telling me “tell your husband…”
    That one’s subordinate looked surprised (my guess is he had noticed there was a single name on the mailbox), took a look at me and spent the whole rest of the visit holding in the giggles every time his boss said “tell your husband…”

  2. Don’t assume that because I’m a woman I can’t shop around or count. One gave me an estimate which was 3x as high as other people’s. I raised an eyebrow, he gave me a sheepish look and said “uh-oh… gone too high, uh?” “You’re not the only one I’ve asked.” “Oopsie.”

Yeah, I’m talking major work items, not the cost of nails. If the scope of work is thorough, and the work is homogeneous, then line item costs for work elements may not be necessary. Example: we recently had contractors look at several work elements in the house: replace a couple of windows upstairs, replace a door downstairs, and renovate the downstairs bathroom. I had them break out the cost for each of the three items so we could decide whether to do some or all of the work. The written scope is usually the most important part.

We hire a guy to fix things here. Years ago a landscaping guy left a card on my door. He’d noticed my lawn really needed mowing. He was cheap, he did good work, and I used him for years when I couldn’t be bothered to mow the lawn myself or when the mower wouldn’t start. I’ll use him again when I need other things done.

Anyway, his brother does flooring, cabinets, and carpentry. He’s our go-to guy. He charges $25/hour per worker, plus materials. The bathroom chimney demo and laying the tile floor took longer, and was more expensive, than we thought; but that’s because I insisted on removing the Mystery Chimney that Mrs. L.A. didn’t mind so much.

The landscaper’s brother, who is licensed and bonded, does take notes.

My wife and I just had a quote the other day for new garage doors. Not only did the contractor give a very detailed estimate, he spent 15 minutes fixing a few issues we have with our current doors and gave us some options to save us a lot of money. He may have cost himself some money with his suggestions but he will be the guy we hire if and when we have the work done. We found him through Home Advisor.com, a free version of Angie’s List. We have found some other help through that site and have been happy with all our hires so far.

Are you going to complain about the price?

How him paying or not paying taxes affects you ?

What’s wrong with that ?

Not paying taxes is indicative of dishonesty. If he’ll steal from all of us, will he steal directly from me?

Pool tables are special and delicate surfaces built to high tolerances for a special purpose. True enthusiasts would no more put anything except the balls on the playing surface than they’d crap in their kitchen sink or use sandpaper as a rag when washing their car.

OK, I was thinking of tables next to a swimming pool :smack:

Re : paying taxes
paying taxes is not an indication of honesty and it’s not my business whether he does it or not,
should I check for outstanding alimony, parking tickets and arrest warrants ?

And someone who I’m asking to replace windows and doors should have a healthy respect for stuff around them. If he doesn’t recognize that the table might be considered off limits, and doesn’t ask…then I won’t trust him to work in the area. I don’t know what else he’s going to potentially mess up.

No, but you’re doing this all backwards.

Before calling anyone, you should write down a detailed list of what you want done. Present each contractor with their own copy of that. The good ones will like this, and will probably make notes on it as you go over it.

The list doesn’t have to be detailed from the contractors viewpoint, just form your homeowner expectations for the end product. Include things like how many & where (“2 electrical receptacles on the north wall and 1 centered on the east wall”). Don’t list materials unless you have specific ones you want (“floor to be maple or walnut”).

Don’t expect a line-by-line estimate, one for the whole job is fine. But their estimate should include everything on your list, probably even attach that to the estimate. If there are separate parts that might be optional, (like fizing the trees on the front yard, then maybe fixing the back yard ones), make sure your list asks for separate bids for each part (and remember that those bids are only good if they are all done at once – you can’t ask them to come back 6 months later for part and expect that bid to still be good. Also, remember to include hours they can work and expected time to complete the job.