1. Don’t expect perfection — expect quality.
The most unrealistic expectation a client can have is that the job will be perfect. There’s no such thing. Painting and tiling and brickwork aren’t done by machine. They’re done by craftsmen — who, yes, are human.
2. Your contractor is making judgments from the moment he steps in your home.
This is like a first date — the first time a contractor meets a client, we size up who they are, how they conduct themselves. What’s their personality like? Are they hot-tempered? Dismissive of your suggestions? If they deal with you this way right off the bat, there probably won’t be a second date.
3. … but they know you’re making judgments, too.
Clients want to be sure you are responsible and fully involved. They want us to be attentive, direct, honest, courteous. In other words: We should be someone they won’t mind seeing every day for six months or longer.
4. Good negotiators can get a better price.
Get more than one bid. Start with the highest-end contractor, the best-stuff-money-can-buy guy. Ask him for a detailed proposal. Take that proposal and copy it, leaving out the costs. Pass it out to subsequent contractors you interview and ask them to fill in the costs. This will give you a good idea of what the job is worth. But be cautious: The lowest bid isn’t usually the best.
5. Safety is your responsibility, too.
Do a simple gut check: Do you want this guy in your home for the next year? Find out if your contractor is licensed. Ask them to show you the license. Make sure they carry liability insurance, so if one of their guys falls off a ladder and breaks his neck, you’re not sued. Likewise, if they cause any damage to your property, you won’t have to pay for it.
6. Feel free to hire subcontractors — but don’t go over your contractor’s head.
Contractors are like agents, always looking for fresh talent. Let’s say you happen to know a terrific painter who’ll do you a favor on price. Most contractors won’t mind that kind of limited subcontracting, especially if you throw a small managerial fee their way.
7. Be nice to the crew.
One simple thing clients can do to make my life easier: Allow the crew to use your bathroom. You’d be surprised how many clients ask us to go to the nearest gas station or diner. Make the work environment comfortable. If it’s 97 degrees, we’re remodeling an attic, and the client won’t let us turn on the AC — that’s cruel. Also, maintain an air of diplomacy and good cheer. Wait 15 minutes before you discuss anything that’s really upsetting you.
8. Pay attention to the warning signs.
Is the contractor usually late? Do you make several calls before he gets back to you? Does he delegate the job to one of his crew? Is he careless about keeping the job clean? Know when to draw the line. This is your home after all, not a construction site.