After an interesting call the other day, I felt compelled to share. The client was in the process of a large home remodel and had an issue with some newly poured concrete. Sadly, they will almost certainly be tearing it out and starting over as their repair options are pretty limited. I sincerely felt bad for them as I know they were calling hoping I had some miracle solution. I did not, and had to break the bad news to them.
After over ten years in the remodel industry, I understand the hassles and stress that can be associated with the remodel process, even when everything goes perfectly. Fortunately, I can only imagine what it is like when things go terribly bad and suddenly you find yourself looking at having work redone that you already paid for, not to mention the strain on the relationship with the party who did the work, and even the thought or possibility of a lawsuit.
What amazes me most when I think about all of the calls I have had like this over the years, is that almost all were a result of customers who tried to save some money by either hiring the cheapest contractor or by hiring someone who wasn’t licensed and bonded. I can think of a couple calls where some strange circumstance caused a problem no one could have foreseen, but most of the clients knew better from the start. This recent client hired an unlicensed family friend and got a permit to do a homeowner remodel. I don’t know how the rest of the project is going but a few thousand dollars of concrete work will almost certainly have to be broken out and replaced as well as the radiant floor heating system in that concrete.
We have all heard the horror stories about remodels or contractors in general, and I certainly don’t want to imply that by hiring someone with a license you remove all chance of becoming one of those stories. I just think it is worth mentioning that most of these calls I’ve had involve the client saying something like, “We just hoped we could save some money and still have it turn out.” Every time, I feel bad for the client. I hate that these types of situations perpetuate the bad image many people have of contractors. I hate it not just because I often have to overcome it meeting with new clients, but because it isn’t an accurate reflection of the individuals I know and work with in the industry; individuals with character, who do good work, go the extra mile and ultimately are just trying to make a living by making happy clients.
Over the years, I have seen my fair share of shady characters who have taken advantage of clients, proudly done poor quality or sub-par work, or who have operated unethically. And while I don’t choose to keep tabs on these types, I know they are a big part of why contractors have one of the highest failure rates of any type of business. Simply put, they go broke and usually pretty quickly.
The current economy and housing industry has certainly changed many things in the industry. The drop in new construction, a higher cost of living, and high unemployment means fewer jobs out there and more competition. Many contractors have entered survival mode. They are no longer bidding jobs to be profitable, but simply to make payroll or cover immediate expenses. The biggest problem with this, is that these individuals are going out of business, and many don’t even know it. You can only do so many unprofitable jobs before the inevitable happens. There needs to be a shift in focus to making the company profitable even with lower job costs, instead of just a knee-jerk reaction cutting of prices to get that next deposit check. A longer term solution is to focus on marketing and branding to increase the number of clients calling so price can be set by demand and not what the current market will bear.
On the client side, now more than ever, there should be concern with simply hiring the cheapest guy. Chances are high that guy won’t be around if there is a problem down the road. Now certainly budget is a concern for everyone in the current economy. I’m not saying you should not hire someone if they are the cheapest, I’d just make sure you vet your contractor more if they are. I’d also pay really close attention to your gut instinct. Most, if not all, of the calls I have where there were problems with another contractor, the clients admit to going against their gut instinct to try and save a few bucks.
People who experience problems with their contractors or projects seem to cast 100% of the blame on the contractor. If you’ve gone against your gut instinct, or hired an unlicensed individual you’ve certainly done nothing but increase your chances that you might have problems and out of fairness to the many professionals out there, part of the blame is your own. Just my .02.
In the state of Washington you can look up license and bond info for any contractor here:
They also have some other great tips about hiring a contractor.
Another great resource is the Better Business Bureau. You can see if customer complaints have been filed against your potential contractor, and if they have, what steps the contractor took to resolve the issue, if they have even responded at all. Either should tell you plenty about who you are looking to hire. Let’s face it, there are unrealistic people out there and not every complain equals a bad contractor.
The BBB can be found here:
Review sites have also become more and more popular and you may want to look up your contractor to see what others are saying about them online as well. If your search returns nothing, that might be another warning sign.