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Lessons Learned: My Tips For Working With A Contractor

On Wednesday, I made the final payment to the general contractor in charge of the garage-to-studio conversion. That company’s part in the conversion/remodel process is officially finished, and the baton has been handed off to me to bring the studio to completion. That will be done through a combination of my own work (I’ll install the flooring, build the cabinets, etc.), subcontractors I’ve worked with in the past and have come to trust (i.e., my drywall guys), and subs that come by recommendation of the general contractor, but with whom I will work directly from here on out.

Working with a general contractor (and subs) can be stressful. We’ve all heard the saying that when you hire a contractor to do a big job, you should expect it to take twice as long and cost double the price. Thankfully, neither of those things happened with my studio project, but there were still some surprises along the way. And in hindsight, I think these surprises could have been avoided had I taken a few extra steps in communicating with and working with the contractor from the very beginning.

So now that my project with the contractor is done, I want to pass along a few tips that I’ve learned, and practices that I’ll definitely be putting into practice when we do our big addition on the back of the house (hopefully next year).

Before I share these, I want to make it clear that my overall experience with the company I used was very good, and I would highly recommend them. The general contractor was great — very helpful, easy to work with, super friendly, personable, and straightforward. He was not in any way a sleazy, slimy contractor who would take advantage of people, but we all know that those contractors exist out there. The project manager in charge of my garage-to-studio conversion was excellent. He came just about every day to check on the progress. He communicated clearly what had been done, what still needed to be done, when to expect what, and was always available to talk over any questions or concerns I had. And the crew that did the framing…well, I can’t say enough positive things about them. They were EXCELLENT. I’d hire them again in a heartbeat to do any and all framing jobs I have in the future.

But even my very good experience had a few bumps in the road, and those can serve as learning experiences for future projects. So here’s what I recommend…

1. Know Your House

Here’s the simple truth. A knowledgeable homeowner is way less likely to be taken advantage of or allow sub-par work to be done on his or her house. I think it’s so important for homeowners to know how their house is constructed, and know the basics of general construction. Do you have a slab foundation or a pier and beam foundation? Do you know where the load-bearing walls are in your house? Just make it a point to understand the basics of how your house is constructed so that you can understand what will go into making major changes to the structure of your home.

2. Educate Yourself On The Basics Of Construction

Contractors and subs don’t always do things the best way. They do things the way they’re used to — the way they ve done it for the last 10 years — but building methods change. Newer and better methods are introduced, and better products are developed. If you’re familiar with these, you can be sure that they’re using the best methods and products on your home.

I know the question is, “But don’t inspectors look to make sure everything is up to code?” Yes, but being up to code doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Or to put it another way, I’ll share with you something that I saw just this week on a contractor/home inspector forum. I don’t even remember the topic I was researching, but one person responded to another by saying, “Meeting code is the bare minimum. So your project meets code? Congratulations. You’ve done the bare minimum required to pass. You score a D-.”

Two examples of this from my own project are (1) window installation and (2) HardiePlank siding installation.

When windows are installed, they have to be flashed in order to keep water out. There is a way to flash windows that meets the bare minimum for code, and then there are a couple of ways to flash a window that far surpass code and give that window the absolute best chance of never leaking, which is what I would call the “right” way to install windows. I have yet to meet a window installer in this area who does anything beyond the bare minimum, which is basically installing the window and then throwing up a few pieces of flashing over the edges of the window. So I educated myself on this (you can learn just about anything you need to know on YouTube), and now when anyone else installs windows on my home, I make sure they do it how I want it done.

When the HardiePlank siding was being installed on the back of the studio, I asked the installers about the tiny little gaps left where the pieces butted up against each other. They said that the painter (that would be me!) would just caulk those butt joints. So I got online and headed to the James Hardie website to see what caulk they recommend for the butt joints. Well, as it turns out, the James Hardie company stopped recommending caulk for the butt joints sometime around 2008, because caulk eventually cracks and/or bulges creating unsightly joints that aren’t watertight, which creates a continual maintenance issue for homeowners.

hardie plank siding butt joint caulk failurevia InsectAPedia

Now they recommend flashing the joints so that caulk isn’t needed, eliminating the unsightly cracks and bulges, as well as the continual maintenance issue that caulk creates.

SONY DSCvia Home Construction & Improvement

I asked the guys about that, and they said they had never heard of it. Neither had the project manager. Neither had any of the men working in the building supply departments of Home Depot or Lowe’s.

So I headed to the store, bought the appropriate flashing, and taught the installers how to flash HardiePlank siding butt joints.

The lesson here? The more you know, the better the results you’ll get.

3. Record your meetings with the contractor.

It may seem awkward to ask your contractor if you can record your conversation, but it could potentially save you a few headaches and possibly some money in the end. I wish to goodness that I had recorded my initial conversation(s) with my contractor.

Y’all may remember that I was incredibly frustrated right off that bat with this project. I had three major sources of frustration, and two of them were addressed (and then evidently forgotten) during the initial meeting with the contractor.

The first issue was that the front wall of the garage had two garage doors, and therefore had no concrete footings. From the very first day that I even considered turning my garage into a studio, I wondered how that would be addressed. How would framers raise the floor when only three of the four walls had concrete footings? This was one of two big concerns I had, so I was very sure to ask the contractors I interviewed about that issue.

When I asked this contractor about the lack of concrete footings on the front wall, he said it wasn’t a problem. We could just run the floor joists the other way. So when I got the estimate from him for the project, nothing about concrete footings on the front wall was mentioned.

Then about a week before the project was scheduled to start, the project manager came to look at the garage and go over details with me. Pretty much the very first thing he said to me was, “There are no concrete footings here! And that wasn’t included on the estimate. We can’t do this floor without concrete footings, and that needs to be done immediately so that we can start this project on time.”

So right off the bat, I was on the hook for an additional cost for concrete footings — footings that I had specifically asked about and was told weren’t needed. The contractor ended up splitting the cost of the footing with me, but that was still an additional $450 added to the estimate even before a single bit of work had been done. I kicked myself over and over for not having that initial conversation recorded.

4. Get everything in writing

This is pretty much common sense, but it bears repeating. Get everything in writing. Communicate in writing via email any changes in the estimate, design plan, finishes and selections, etc. And for heaven’s sake, don’t delete any of those emails!

5. Get a detailed, itemized bid

When I got the bid for the studio project, it was divided into three sections — studio, mudroom, and bathroom. All of the items that were included in each section were listed as line items, but the prices weren’t. The prices were just given as lump sums for each section.

So that made it a little challenging when the project manager would come to me and say things like, “I need to order the French doors today. Have you picked out the ones you want?” Well, no I hadn’t, because those doors were included in the bid, but I had no idea how much was given as an allowance for the doors. Did I have to choose the $600 French doors to stay in budget? Could I get the $1200 set? Having to wait on that info can be awkward and cause delays. It’s easier if you just have the info right off the bat. It also puts you in the driver’s seat and helps you feel more in control of the budget rather than flying blind. If your contractor gives you an itemized bid and you see that he’s allowed $150 for a faucet, but you know your heart is set on a fancy $900 faucet, you know exactly how much of an overage charge you’re on the hook for. There will be no surprises.

6. Have sub-contractors look at project before signing off on the estimate

A lot of times, remodels/additions are pretty straightfoward with no special circumstances involved. But if you know you have some kind of unique issue involved (which is where “know your house” comes into play), then I highly suggest having your contractor bring his subs to your house to look at that unique issue before you sign off on the estimate to avoid any surprises later.

And this brings me to Item Of Frustration #2 for me.

During our initial meeting, my second main concern to discuss with the contractor was the addition of a bathroom at the back. I knew it would be an issue because the foundation in that room is solid concrete. It’s right next to the pantry and breakfast room, which are also on a solid concrete foundation AND have a finished hardwood floor on top. So getting plumbing pipes from the back of the studio, through two rooms of solid concrete foundation, including finished floors, was going to be a challenge. I was assured that the plumber could figure out a solution.

Well, that’s true enough. He did figure it out, and he did get it done. It’s just required a special $1100 toilet. Yes, $1100. And no, it’s not gold plated. 😀

It’s a Saniflo toilet that attaches to a special grinder (mmmmm….just think about that for a second) that sits behind the toilet…

saniflo toilet with mascerator - 1

…and that turns…you know…stuff…into a slurry that can be sent up (not down, but up) through a small pipe, into the attic, across the attic, and down through the pipe at the hallway bathroom. It uses enough pressure to send it up 15 feet, and over 150 feet.

saniflo toilet with mascerator - 2

I knew from the beginning this room would present special plumbing challenges, and I knew it would be expensive to put a bathroom back there. I just wish that the plumber had come to look at the project before I was ever handed an estimate so that I would’t be surprised later with needing a special $1100 toilet. The contractor split the price with me, but $550 for a toilet is still about four or five times the amount that I would generally spend on a toilet.

7. Question anything that doesn’t quite seem right

This is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re told something that doesn’t quite seem right, question it until you’re satisfied with the answer. If something on the estimate doesn’t quite add up, question it until the issue is resolved.

And this brings me to Item Of Frustration #3 for me.

After signing off on the original estimate, I decided that I wanted skylights. Based on the suggestion of a commenter on my blog, I chose a specific brand that opened and closed using solar power, and also had built-in shades that opened and closed using solar power. So no hardwiring was necessary. I found the ones I wanted at Home Depot for $1500 each.

I emailed and told them that I wanted to add two of those skylights, and provided the brand/size, and a direct link to the product on Home Depot’s website. I also made a few other additions/subtractions to the estimate in the same email.

When I got the revised estimate back, the skylights had only added $900 to the price. I thought it was odd, but for some reason didn’t question it at all. I just figured that it was a combination of his super discounted contractor pricing, along with the net effect of the other subtractions and additions I made, that only increased it by $900.

So when it came time to order them, the project manager asked me to show him which skylights I wanted. He was shocked at the price, and told me that there was no way those were included in the estimate. He checked with the office, and they were shocked as well. Somehow my email with the very specific information regarding the skylights I wanted was overlooked, and they only allowed for the very basic skylights that they generally use — no opening/closing feature, and no built-in shades.

I was frustrated, to say the least. In the end, I decided to forgo the skylights altogether for other reasons. And in hindsight, I realize I should have questioned it the very second I looked at that revised estimate with the skylights and only saw a price increase of $900 for those particular skylights.

 

So those are the lessons I’ve learned during this project. And let me reiterate that the overall process was really very smooth, and even with the three Items Of Frustration, I would still work with this contractor again and recommend the company to anyone looking for a contractor. But I will carry these lessons learned into future projects where hiring a contractor is necessary.

If you’ve worked with a contractor, and have valuable tips to share, I’d love to hear them!



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46 Comments

  • Reply
    Guerrina
    July 28, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Excellent advice, Kristi! Since my home sits below sewer level, I have a huge grinder pump in the basement. Had to have it pumped once since some female who visited my home flushed tampons (after being instructed otherwise). The only other drawback is when we lose power, there is no way to tell how full the pump is, so showers and flushing are a no-no. Not an issue if only for a few hours or one day, but makes extremely inconvenient when power is lost for a week (happened X2 from hurricanes)! Glad to have friends and relatives nearby!

    • Reply
      Marianne in Mo.
      July 28, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      Oh geez, we have one of those pump grinders too. ( Just moved into the house last Oct. ) I am enlightened by your comments, as I had no idea about the feminine products. We don’t have hurricanes, and hardly ever have extended power failures, but good to know about anyway. I had never heard of a pump grinder before building this house, but since we’ve moved in, have heard not so nice stories from the neighbors. Also, our builder socked us on the pricing as Kristi said, because he was unaware of the costs of the item and what installation entailed. We got an overage of $2400 just for that item!

  • Reply
    Sherre
    July 28, 2017 at 10:48 am

    I think those are great tips. Another thing I would add is to pay attention during the process. When left unchecked, contractors do whatever they’re used to doing, which may not be what you want. It’s better to say, “hey, you’re not moving in the direction I expected you to” than to say “this finished product is not up to my standards. Tear it out and try again.”
    Do you put a huge amount of effort in calling and vetting contractors? You seem to find them so easily, I’m seriously envious! Last time I called around for a handyman, 2 out of 7 guys responded. One whined about it being too cold for outside projects and then asked when we could meet to discuss his deposit. The second one provided an outrageously high hourly quote then never contacted me again after I defined the actual scope. It’s like pulling teeth!

    • Reply
      Kristi
      July 29, 2017 at 10:00 pm

      I don’t put a huge amount of time, but I do interview a few people (I think I talked to three contractors about this job), and I also put a lot of stock into references from people I know and trust.

  • Reply
    pj
    July 28, 2017 at 10:49 am

    My advice? No matter how highly the contractor is recommended, if he tells you he is moving to Colorado during the job but it will be ok, Do. Not. Believe. Him.

    • Reply
      Kristi
      July 29, 2017 at 10:01 pm

      Oh my goodness. That sounds like an interesting story. 🙂

  • Reply
    Lisa E
    July 28, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Great info. I just love that you showed them how to install that flashing! Major props!

  • Reply
    Brette
    July 28, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Very good advice. I’m saving this. I’m sure it will help some avoid grief. Doing your homework is important. When I had quartz countertops installed, I downloaded the installation manual and anything else I could find. That way I would know if they were installed correctly. (They were.) However, they measured the peninsula wrong and wanted to somehow make it work by having a carpenter make the peninsula top smaller. I refused (as did the carpenter) and told them to cut a new slab for the peninsula. They did. The contractor wanted to hurry the job along by putting 1/2 inch backboard on the backsplash so the electrical receptacles would be flush. I knew that would create problems when installing the sink. I insisted on 1/4 inch. The tile setter agreed with me. I had an electrician move the receptacles over slightly so they could be pushed further into the wall (shiplap originally covered with thick mud and tile). The project turned out beautifully, but you have to go into something like this armed.

  • Reply
    Kate S
    July 28, 2017 at 11:08 am

    “It’s a Saniflo toilet that attaches to a special grinder (mmmmm….just think about that for a second) that sits behind the toilet…”

    Oh my! Just the laugh I needed today!!!! Thanks, you have a design/decorating gift… AND a writing gift 😀

  • Reply
    Claudia S
    July 28, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Can you go through a step by step on how to find a contractor and project manager?
    I apologize if you have already gone through this step but I can’t find anything on the subject.

    • Reply
      Kristi
      July 29, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      I personally like to interview at least three people for the job. I also ask around and get references from people I know and trust. But I don’t know that I can really share step-by-step. I just know that after meeting with the three, there will always be one that stands out and I just get a sense about the person. It’s not always about price, although I pretty much always rule out the most expensive one.

      • Reply
        Claudia
        July 29, 2017 at 10:33 pm

        Thank you! Being a single woman I’m always afraid of getting taken advantage of. You have taught me so much and I think I am ready to dive in😃.

  • Reply
    Rebecca B
    July 28, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Kristi, do we get so see pictures of the finished project? Do you have to paint Hardie board? I must say, it is so much prettier than vinyl. As for that toilet, the thought of sewage going up … yech … i sure hope you don’t get a leak in that line! So funny about the flashing. I guess you taught the contractor something new!
    Thank you for the very insightful comments on how to deal with contractors. I agree totally. We had an addition put up in about 2001 and I wish I had thought about some of those things before doing that. However, I would feel funny about asking to record a conversation because I would be afraid the contractor would think I was one of those super anal people and the contractor might run the other way!

    • Reply
      Linda
      July 28, 2017 at 12:01 pm

      I would think if he runs away, you wouldn’t want him anyway. That would tend to make me think he had something to hide 😉

    • Reply
      Marianne in Mo.
      July 28, 2017 at 5:30 pm

      I would just tell him I have a lousy memory, that this is a lot to absorb, etc. Put it on you instead of making him think it’s about no trust.

    • Reply
      Kristi
      July 29, 2017 at 9:38 pm

      It’s not quite finished yet, but I’ll show pics as soon as it’s finished. You can get Hardie siding that has the color already in/on it, or you can get the kind that has to be painted. I got the second kind, so now I need to decide which color to paint my siding.

  • Reply
    Gilmer Gal
    July 28, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Great post, Kristi! I knew some of these things, since I worked closely with builders in San Antonio. HOWEVER, the hardi plank stuff is new to me. It only makes sense to put some barrier instead of caulk.

  • Reply
    Paige
    July 28, 2017 at 11:40 am

    How did the siding guys take your flashing instruction? Hope they were willing to learn a better way without throwing a tantrum!

    • Reply
      Kristi
      July 29, 2017 at 9:39 pm

      They took it just fine. No grumbling or tantrums. 🙂

  • Reply
    Barbara Pilcher
    July 28, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Lots of good advice here! I would add that having an appreciative attitude towards subs is a plus. When I worked as a housepainter, the more a homeowner treated me with respect and appreciation, the more inclined I would be to go above and beyond.

    I wrote about this topic here, including tips on learning their names, greeting them, making conditions comfortable, praising good work.

    http://diyhomestagingtips.blogspot.com/2011/04/insider-tips-notes-from-blue-collar-gal.html#.WXtqyoTyuM8

  • Reply
    Andrea
    July 28, 2017 at 11:57 am

    Good catch on the Hardie plank. We had it on our new build… (now 3.5 yrs old). I asked the same question about the gaps sans the caulking. I don’t remember if there was the extra flashing under the gaps though. However, being in WA state I would think we would see damage by now so I’m hoping it was done right. :/ The grinder… thanks for the visual. I’ve never even eaten the sandwich, not even sure what it consists of, but probably never will want to eat it. 😀 lol

    • Reply
      Marianne in Mo.
      July 28, 2017 at 5:32 pm

      HA! Agree, why on earth would you name a sandwich that sounds so unappetizing!

  • Reply
    Janette @ The 2 Seasons
    July 28, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Get some Solatubes (that’s the brand name) installed to take the place of your sky lights. We have three in this house and had three in our last house. They can be installed in a few hours with little mess. They aren’t very expensive and work like a charm. I LOVE the ones we have and would get them over and over again. Three of our neighbors loved ours so much that they got some, too.

    • Reply
      Joyce
      July 28, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      I’m happy to see this positive mention of Solatubes. My husband and I had a skylight in our previous house and ended up removing it for several reasons. We’ve been thinking of installing Solatubes in a couple dark areas of our current house, so it’s reassuring to read such positive things about them.

      • Reply
        Tina de Julien
        July 28, 2017 at 6:38 pm

        We have had EIGHT solatubes installed in my older, darker, ranch style home, and have never had a
        problem with any of them. My home is bright throughout the day and we don’t have to turn on lights in just to use the (interior and therefore windowless) bathrooms. Recommend highly.

        • Reply
          Joyce
          July 28, 2017 at 8:52 pm

          Great to know! Thanks.

    • Reply
      Marianne in Mo.
      July 28, 2017 at 5:34 pm

      I’ve been wanting them forever, but can’t convince my husband! Kristi, with that roof line, it might be an easy DIY for you!

    • Reply
      Kristi
      July 29, 2017 at 9:40 pm

      I don’t think solatubes can be installed when there’s only 6 inches of space between the ceiling and the roof. I’d love to put one in my hallway, though And perhaps even the hallway bathroom.

  • Reply
    Lydia Prokulevich
    July 28, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Thank you very much indeed! Your own experience, summaried and analyzed, is just invaluble.
    I just finished a renavation of the 2 rooms apartment and relaized some of your tips will be so useful if read them before.
    Anyway – well done!
    And thank you for sharing! Not many do it…. unfortunately.
    Ly

  • Reply
    K. Benca
    July 28, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    I am engaged to a regional sales manager for a company that sells contractors building materials. He also is a door/window/trim expert. He ALWAYS provides VERY detailed descriptions and costs on his bids and estimates, where others do not. There are both pros and cons to doing it this way, and I initially thought that he was CRAZY to do it the way he did because the contractor or homeowner will take his bid hand it to another company and ask them for an estimate. Well, now they have his costs, after he’s gone out and done all the measuring and plan work, and they’ll just look at his cost and take a few hundred dollars off trying to get the job. Here’s his explanation of why he likes to do it the way he does…”If they’re going to try to get the job from me, I want that other company to compare apples to apples. I don’t want the homeowner to see the bottom line and think that they’ve been given a good/correct estimate and have the job taken away from me when there are errors or lower quality materials being bid on the competing estimate. I’m confident in the job that I do, know my products and know that I’ll beat ANY other company if we’re bidding the same job with the same products.” Mic drop… 😉

    Bottom line, contractors don’t give detailed estimates because they don’t want you to shop the estimate and they make $ on “change orders” or “upgrades to the amount they’ve allotted for that portion of the job”. Wonderful contractors will give you different options on the various thing they’re being hired to do (4 1/2″ baseboard vs. 5 3/4″ or vinyl single-hung windows vs. aluminum clad casement windows), but VERY few contractors will go through the extra work to do this.

    Anyway Kristi, you’ve given some AMAZING advice and I LOVE reading your blog. When I grow up, I want to be you! 🙂

  • Reply
    denise
    July 28, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    We just finished building a new house. It took a year, from the first dig in the basement through moving in. The one thing that exasperated me THE MOST was, Getting People To Listen To Me. I know women aren’t supposed to know anything, (haha) but I have remodeled many, many homes, and I have a real good idea of what I want and what it would take to get there. So many contractors/sub-contractors take it upon themselves to make decisions that should have been run past the homeowners. Don’t tell me why something won’t work and listen to me explain to you why it WILL work. grrrr….

    • Reply
      Marianne in Mo.
      July 28, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      (Clapping hands!) We have had all three of our houses built, were there at LEAST every other day throughout the process and are more knowledgeable than the average customer. Still, with the last builder, he would stare glassy-eyed when I proposed an idea, until my husband would jump in and agree. So annoying!

  • Reply
    Peggy
    July 28, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    I would also recommend keeping a notebook that you write any changes in, i.e. moving a receptacle, upgrading something, or whatever else is different from the original bid. Then you date it, initial it, and have the contractor do the same thing. Now you have your changes marked and he has marked it also so can not say ‘you didn’t tell/ask me to do that.

    • Reply
      Tara C
      July 28, 2017 at 3:53 pm

      Great idea!

  • Reply
    Theresa P
    July 28, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Whoo Hoo! This is exciting! It’s been so interesting thus far! It makes me excited to see where you take the rest of the project.

    You definitely have a gift for words – I felt your frustration loud and clear through your post.

    Great tips! We will eventually have to reside our house. It currently has painted T1-11 siding, but Hardie Plank makes some cool vertical options that I think we’ll want to use when we redo ours.

  • Reply
    Mark E Tisdale
    July 28, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    There’s something about that processed ‘slurry’ being pumped under pressure above head that just… unsettles me… I think it’s the pressure part that worries me. I hope that plumber did an amazing job making sure all his connections were good. That’s one pipe you never want to leak!

    At any rate, a great write-up for anyone looking to get a contractor for projects like this. No plans on the horizon, but I’ll remember this is here if I ever need it or have friends who do. Excellent to share this with everyone – thank you!

    Mark

  • Reply
    Kristin
    July 28, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Good advice. I am a first time investor and about to complete my first flip. I used a General Contractor recommended by an experienced flipper and for the most part it was a great experience. The GC is an all-around outstanding guy but I ran into many of the same issues. I received the proposal and I had a line item budget: $1200 for plumbing fixtures, $500 for hardware, etc. I picked out floors, paint, hardware, etc. When it came time to install I “assumed” the tile would wrap the garden tub.. nope.. just along the top and against the wall. I “assumed” the granite in the bathroom would be extended as a back-splash. Again Nope. Turns out my floor tile was used as a back-splash. It looked awful. My CG said that is he does it for the other flipper and “assumed” that is what I wanted too. Lessons learned. Don’t let contractors decide on design at all. Lastly I stated my wishes for new cabinets but I was told they were in great shape but once the counter was removed they fell apart I was in it for quite a bit more than what was proposed. I know now to make my wishes known and do what I want after considering GC’s opinions. I also now know to make my design wishes known up front. I know that I need to sit down with the GC and go line by line and make sure we are on the same page. No more assuming for me.

  • Reply
    Marianne in Mo.
    July 28, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    I would suggest to anyone to take photos of the process from subfloor to finish! We had asked for an outlet to be installed at a specific spot next to the mantel. It was installed, but the drywall guys covered it up. We had stopped in to see the drywall job so we could enjoy that stage, and we noticed. Luckily, I had taken pics of all the framed walls before, so I could send the pic to the builder indicating exactly where the outlet was. Saved them from poking holes until they found it. This has also come in handy in finding studs, determining joist positions easily and finding plumbing at later times in our other houses. And when we moved, I left them (and the blueprints) with the new owners, along with any booklets, instructions etc. for permanent items in the home. (furnace, refrigerator, range, etc.)

    Another thing – ask the contractor (if you are willing!) whether or not you can supply items such as faucets, lights and other small items. Usually they will give you an allowance amount, then it is deducted from the final costs. We got many items for our house at a lower cost than the builder could. Flooring was a BIG one. We even found the doors and windows we wanted, he got a bid for what he could get them at, but our bid was cheaper, so we gave him the bid and he ordered from our supplier. It takes a bit of your effort, but if you are a savvy shopper you sometimes can do better. Not all will allow this, so you have to ask!
    Good job Kristi, with this post! We all can help each other learn, and your Hardi plank topic was an eye opener I’m sure, for many of us. Wish every contractor/sub could just see that ONE subject, because I bet none of them are aware, except your guys!

    • Reply
      Ravzie
      July 29, 2017 at 2:21 pm

      I have purchased all of my fixtures, tile, etc for my master bath reno. Then I’ve been seeking contractors for a labor & construction materials only estimate. Funny how many were not interested – as they are making a ton of money from selling you the stuff…. I did it this way because I did not enjoy going to showrooms and hearing “pick one of these and one of these colors” and “We’ll write in an allowance for the tub you want.” What allowance? Just write me an estimate that doesn’t include a tub! So… I am actually thinking of doing it myself. I can file for permits,
      hire a plumber, an electrician, a tile guy. Not sure why I need to pay a guy to that for me.

  • Reply
    Hass
    July 29, 2017 at 9:05 am

    One thing I never do as a general contractor is cut prices or “split” costs with a homeowner. It makes me feel cheap, and it reduces the value of my cumulative knowledge and expertise. No one is perfect, and it sounds to me like you’re an extremely detail oriented person, so it’s no wonder your contractor forgot a few things. Remember that a contractor is not you! They can’t see your vision exactly as you see it! So don’t expect what you see exactly in your head if you’re not doing the work yourself. Very detail projects are like a painting. If you ask an artist to do your painting, it’s going to turn out differently than what you envisioned, guaranteed.

    Another thing is that a general contractor is a project manager. If you hired a project manager, then wanted to oversee every aspect of the project, that’s called micro management. As a GC, I would have charged extra for my time constantly being interrupted and decisions questioned. Certain products do change, and installation instructions change some times, but generally, construction techniques haven’t changed in some time. It’s up to the GC if he’s good enough, to keep up with slight changes in building code, and changes to manufacturer installation instructions.

    If I personally misquoted the wrong skylights, or toilet, or footer, I wouldn’t ever consider dropping price. In a conversation, things can be misunderstood, or inaccurately explained… Where even a recording wouldn’t help especially if I misunderstood what you were talking about. I would explain that I misunderstood, and that the price to do it the way you wanted would be x. If you think that the price should be lower for a misunderstanding, then sub that portion out yourself for the price you’re looking for I guess. Because in the end it’s not about being punished on price for doing something wrong and not willing to fix it (which is the only time I’ll budge on price) it’s that you’re trying to punish me for something I hadn’t yet done or charged for!

    In the end, general contracting is a tough business, but what keeps me moving forward is a smile on my customers face in the end. If that means I have to do some extra things myself to cut costs, then I do.

    • Reply
      Kristi
      July 29, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Whether or not the contractor can see exactly in my head or not is irrelevant. And it doesn’t take “an extremely detail oriented person” to look at a garage floor that’s at ground level and that needs to be raised 18 inches to be level with the rest of the house that’s on a pier and beam foundation, and know that a complete lack of concrete footing on the entire front side of the garage will need to be addressed before a floor can be built and before the entire front can be enclosed with an actual wall. Without a concrete footing, where the heck are you supposed to put the base plate? What do you build the wall on? Dirt? Do you really think this is stuff that only “an extremely detail oriented person” would notice, or is this Construction 101 stuff that the contractor should have noticed, especially when I asked about it directly? I think you know the answer to that.
       
      I get it. It was an oversight on his part. It was a pretty obvious one, but mistakes happen. I understand that. I was frustrated about the additional cost right off the bat, but we dealt with it and I’m over it. But to chalk that up to me being “an extremely detail oriented person” and to the contractor not being able to see the vision in my head is just silly. It’s like forgetting to add the cost of a foundation to a new house bid. That’s not an oversight or a miscommunication because you can’t see the vision in the customer’s head. LOL.
       
      And it doesn’t take “an extremely detail oriented person” to know that if a homeowner wants to put a bathroom in an area with solid concrete foundations, and the 12-foot-wide room next to it can’t be jacked up because it also sits on a solid concrete foundation and has finished floors that can’t be messed up, then it will require special consideration that a plumber should look at to know exactly what the project will entail before the homeowner is given a quote for the project.
       
      And no, I didn’t hire a project manager. The project manager works for the company that I hired. He was assigned to my project by the general contractor. That’s how they do things, and I was fine with it. He was a pleasure to work with.
       
      And lastly, I will micromanage the hell out of anything that’s done in my house if I want to. Why? Because it’s MY house. I’M the one who pays the mortgage. I’M the one who’s paying the contractor and subs $30,000 out of my pocket to get this work done, and I want it done the way I want it done. Period. I’m not rude to people who work in my house, and I treat people who work on my house with respect. I laugh with them, I joke around with them, I get to know them, and I praise the heck out of them for a job well done. At times I’ll buy them lunch, and bring big cold drinks from Sonic. I go out of my way to make them feel appreciated. But if they’re going to get their panties in a twist because I’m asking too many questions or making too many requests, they’re welcome to pack up their tools and get the heck out of my house, and I’ll find someone else who wants the job.

  • Reply
    Sheri
    July 29, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Yikes, Kristi, we have one of these toilets in our basement and have had to replace the pump on it, which is pretty common, or as others have said, sometimes the tank has to be pumped out…I really wouldn’t let them put the tank and pump behind a wall like they’ve done on yours, you WILL need to access it eventually!

    • Reply
      Kristi
      July 29, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      When it’s placed behind the wall, it has to have an access panel behind the toilet. If it needs to be serviced, they’ll be able to remove that panel to access it.

  • Reply
    Melanie
    July 30, 2017 at 11:35 am

    You know what strikes me as interesting is the propensity for animosity the contractor can have for the designer (in your case it would be you the homeowner)
    I guess that would be a reason to higher an interior designer (lucky you don’t have to Kristi) so they could be making sure things are done to design specifications and then the homeowner wouldn’t have that headache of dealing with a gruff builder.
    I find it interesting that the general contractor/project manager doesn’t care about the finished project but only the bottom line. The designer has done the work of planning what the finished project will look like and a good builder should take pride in the fact they could construct within the parameters of a design. Why is it so hard to find someone that takes pride in doing a job the right way and not butting heads with the designer: whether it be an architect, homeowner, or interior designer?
    We have hired out many jobs and miscommunication has lead to us redoing
    Certain things over once the pro left.
    We aren’t particularly “detail oriented” we just want it to look the way we wanted it to function for us because it’s our home! I suspect worrying about the details is kinda important when dealing with electricity, plumbing( especially sewage) , functionality of load bearing walls, windows, doors – let’s just go ahead and say the whole house- because their are thousands of pages of city and state building codes written to ensure the safety of a structure. So the designer isn’t nitpicking or getting in the way- the designer is an important part of the process of construction. I just wish everybody knew this 😊

  • Reply
    Leslie Bonner
    August 9, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Great advice Kristi! We recently had a total kitchen redo and, although it turned out well, there were some things I might have done differently.

  • Reply
    Dawn
    August 11, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    This is an EXCELLENT article, thank you for sharing your woes and wisdom! I learned a ton from reading this and will refer to it in the near future, I am sure. Keep the amazingness coming. 🙂

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