5 Secrets Your Contractor Doesn’t Want You to Know

You’ve asked friends to recommend great contractors, picked your favorite,  checked references — and maybe even conducted an online background check on his business. So  you know you’ve found a top-notch guy for your home improvement project.
But remember that his bottom line is getting you to sign a  contract, and he’s not going to mention anything that might get in the way.  Before you make a commitment, here’s what you need to know in order to protect  your own bottom line.

1. He’s desperate for your business
As tough as the  economy has been overall, the construction industry has been in far worse shape.  While the national unemployment rate has hovered around 8%, for construction  workers it’s been a whopping 17% and higher.
What you should  do: It doesn’t mean you should play hardball with your contractor on  his price (because he might cut corners on the job if you do), but if you ask  for an itemized bid, and explain that you’re getting them from a few  contractors, he’s going to sharpen his pencil and give you his most competitive  price.
2. He’s going to farm out the work

General contractors  often don’t do the physical work themselves. They might have been carpenters or  plumbers, but now that they run their own businesses, they’ve retired their tool  belts.
Instead, their role is to sign clients, manage budgets, and  schedule a cast of subcontractors. When he’s trying to win your  business, a contractor can be pretty vague about how involved he’s going to  be — and who will be running the job day-to-day.
What you should  do: Inquire who will be in charge of the jobsite. Ask to meet the job  foreman, preferably while he’s at work on a current jobsite. “Maybe he’s a chain  smoker or doesn’t speak English or who knows what?” says Stockbridge, Mass.,  contractor Jay Rhind. “You want to make sure you feel comfortable with  him.”
3. A big deposit is unnecessary — and possibly  illegal
When you sign  a contract, you’re usually expected to pay a deposit. But that’s not for  covering the contractor’s initial materials or set-up costs.
If his  business is financially sound and he’s in good standing with his suppliers, he  shouldn’t need to pay for anything up front. In fact, many states limit a  contractor’s advance. California maxes out deposits at 10% of the job cost, or  $1,000 — whichever is smaller.
What you should do: If  your contractor is asking for, say, 25%-30% of a job that’s not even due to  start for a while, offer to give a more nominal amount (5%-10%) with the  contract and the rest on the day the work commences.
4. He’s not  only marking up labor, but materials too
No contractor wants to  talk about it, but he’s going to mark up everything he pays out to make your job  happen. That’s fair; it’s how he pays his own overhead and salary. Keep it in  mind that the 10% to 20% mark-up applies not just to materials but labor costs,  too.
What you should do: If you can handle buying items  such as plumbing fixtures, cabinets, countertops,  and flooring, ask your  contractor to take them out of his bid price. Be sure to agree on specific  numbers and amounts of what you’ll be buying, and that you’ll have the items to  the jobsite when they’re needed. You could save 10%-20% or more from what your  contractor might charge.
5. He’s not the design whiz he claims to  be
Sure, there are contractors who have strong design abilities.  Chances are, however, they’re spending a lot more time running their businesses  than honing their design chops.
What you should do:  Don’t count on a contractor to design your space and add clever details, unless  he clearly demonstrates his abilities and has a portfolio of his own designs.  Ask his references specifically about his design skills. Otherwise, you’re  better off hiring  an architect for overall planning, and a kitchen and bath designer for the  details. The cost of those design professionals usually is compensated by  efficient planning and problem-free design work.

 

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