Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Communication gets the job done….or better yet, started.

The biggest complaint I hear from people is contractors do not communicate well. The top of the complaint list is they don’t call back after they look at a project. I am here to tell you that it may not be your fault, but then again, it may. Contractors are a mixed breed. Talent has really nothing to do with their ability to communicate, so you have to take control. On the flip side, I have heard many contractors getting frustrated with prospects for asking for too much or having no clue what they want. But that is why you’re calling them, right? Well, it shouldn’t be.

There is a natural mistrust of salespeople & contractors. This is not a modern problem. The salesman has been untrustworthy for as long as there has been commerce. The “snake oil salesman” goes back to the late 19th century Old West, referring to someone who knowingly sells fraudulent goods or someone who is a fraud, a quack, a charlatan, and the like. To make things more suspect, contracting is unpredictable; with variations in scope, effort, skill, materials, professional aptitude and legalities, and a prospect’s refinement of expectations making bid range from cheap to a rip off.

In response, our society developed ways to mitigate design variations. The late 19th century saw the evolution of professional engineers and architects. The mid 19th century saw the implementation of building regulations first in Baltimore, MD. In 1916, New York City adopted their first zoning regulations. In 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was started, regulating the rules of work engagement, continually adding rules in reaction to creative ways workers hurt themselves. Even with all this structure, project planning has fallen into two camps: by design or on the fly. Design is assumed to be for larger projects or the well off, but many design professionals will tell you if you are manipulating a building, have a design completed.

A design does a few things. First it keeps everyone on an even plane, bidding on a seemingly fixed expectation. Second, you have someone watching their design and your back. This is critical for those who may not have a great relationship with a contractor, or just cannot be on the job enough. You pretty much know what you are getting before the project starts.

The “on the fly” camp can be for small projects or those who don’t want to pay for a design. There is nothing wrong with this camp. In fact, most jobs are done this was and go off without a hitch. Yet the toughest part is defining expectation and ensuring a contractor follows through. This is where some critical steps must be taken. And I always love a prospect that knows what they want, to a point.

Step 1

List all the work items you want to accomplish and by when. It does not need to be double spaced on letterhead, but it has to be legible and coherent in the end. You may start not having a clue as to what you want or what you need and that’s OK. But by the time you are done with the first, second, or third contractor, you should get an idea of what the problem or your intent may be. And once you understand it, write it down and share with all of the contractors bidding on it. The project becomes apples to apples, instead of apples to quasars.

Step 2

Clarifications are key. Questions mean they are confused, or worse, misinformed. Provide updates to all parties.

Step 3

Never give up, ever. Unanswered calls or not writing a proposal is when imaginations go wild. You have not called them enough. Get them to say “I don’t want to do this project” instead of not giving you a proposal. They are busy. You are busy. Get them off the hook by making them say no.

Step 4

Accepting bids is not a race to the bottom. If you want good work at a good price, throw out the lowest bid. If you want great work on a time crunch, go for the high bid. If you want great work for the best price, negotiate with the highest bidders.

And like a good pair of shoes or a hat, pick the one you like the most.   Develop the project with some trepidation, but become confident that all players understand their role and their price. Like my favorite preservationist John Ruskin said “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort”. So go forth armed with the tools to make contractors want to work for you at the best price.




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