Heritage Restoration, Inc.

What Is Your Idea Of Good?

What is your idea of good? There are several levels of good I tolerate, A or B, maybe C, but then there are the levels I would never do.  I know my limits. I bring in a practiced, skilled contractor for tasks outside my comfort or skill zone.  But the level of good is not up to me.  The client has to define their idea of good.   It’s not about what the contractor wants, but what they client expects.  Too often clients expect more than the contractor can deliver.


I determine the level of good by a few criteria.  I ask what the final look should be, such as details, if they want a quick fix, or how long they want it to last.  I observe the condition of the house, including what workmanship was completed recently and originally.  The biggest criteria for “good” are budget expectations, which dictates scope, materials and level of workmanship.


These criteria dictate the effort that goes into completing a project, which in the end dictates cost.  One-way to define criteria are specifications and plans.  Specs and plans define what is expected.  They rarely dictate method, which is up to the contractor.  And the idea of good between contractors can be far apart.  There are some that believe low bidder means one of three things; either the project was bid assuming less effort, it gets done to a low level of good, it was underbid, or they have cheap labor.  And once a contractor starts a job and is not up to expectations, it is usually more costly to ask them to leave and start over.


I have so many examples of good drawings and specifications that end in bad work.  The biggest culprits are roofs and flashing.  The main is one can design and request good materials, but it is up to the contractor to complete the work.  And when the contractor either doesn’t care or does not complete good work, the work fails.  I have seen 200-year expectancy metal roof fail in 5 years.  Copper installed incorrectly.  Or new top of the line window unit rot in 10 years.  Or roof flashing not addressed when a roof was replaced, so the roof leaked immediately.  And all for one reason: poor installation and workmanship.  And these were not low bid scenarios.  These were people with the expectation that they would get good work done right.


This is not criticizing designers or contractors, or even to suggesting that clients should know better.  This is a failure of industry expectations.  Poor training, a lack of proper independent project oversight and low cost expectations all contribute.  The recent economic downturn has had a profound effect on prices and expectations.  Contractors are hungry, looking to keep busy and make a little of what they made before.  Managers are out of the office and in the field.  And with less volume, skills are less practiced.  Even good contractors have gone out of business.  Sure, more competition and less activity have lowered prices, but business expenses are up.  So many are buying time to make money again and doing outside their skill zone to get a job, finish it and make money.


So what do you do?  The goal is to spend money wisely.   You want them to do the job right and finish.  Most people who get a bad job never seek legal recourse; they are just stuck with bad work.  So protect yourself.

  • Define what your expectation is.  From “just get it done” to “I will have everything checked with a magnifying glass”.
  • Ask for several references, even ones from 5-6 years ago, since failure usually reveals itself by then.
  • Ask to be an additionally insured on their liability and worker’s compensation policies, so you are notified if their insurance is dropped.  Independent contractors are not required to have worker’s compensation.
  • Check the status of their contractor registration at http://www.crb.ri.gov/search.php.
  • If the bid are all over the place or too high, call and ask for clarification.  Lower your expectations, reduce the scope, or ask them to sharpen their pencils.
  • Get extensive detail in a bid.  I do not accept numbers on the back of a card.
  • Hire on skills matching the job, professionalism, experience, personality and cost.
  • If you question their performance, hire an independent auditor, or an expert in the field.


As a colleague once told me, “Out of price, time frame, and quality….pick two.”  Or as my brother said, “add all three bids together and that’s the price it will be”.

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