NYC Renovation Chronicles

How not to talk money with a contractor

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The Situation

I remember going to see a TriBeCa loft with my two partners back when the area was starting to boom. Between us, we had 30 years of experience.

We listened as the newly wealthy photographer-owner described the glass-topped wall he wanted. My partners and I were thinking, silently, that it would take 5 days with 2 guys, plus materials.

Now, back in the day, before his loft had tripled in value, the photographer had thrown up some wobbly sheetrock walls himself, and he thought he knew a thing or two about construction.

"How much can it cost," he demanded. "What, two, three-hundred dollars? C'mon, it's a no-brainer!"

After we walked out, all three of us said simultaneously: "No brainer."  In other words, when a person tells you that what you do is of no value, you don't take the job.

Discussing costs is always tricky. Here are some actual phrases I wish I'd never hear again:  

Here's the Deal


NEVER SAY, "It's a no brainer."
Few lay people are truly qualified to assess the difficulty of any construction task, so why risk insulting the very people who could help you?

INSTEAD SAY, "To me, this seems pretty simple, but I'm no expert––what do you think?"
Let the contractor walk you through his process. Ask questions before you jump to a conclusion.

NEVER SAY, "We can't afford it."
Believe me, no one, including the Amir of Monopolimonistan, ever thinks they have enough money. Whatever funds may or may not be available, everyone makes choices as to how theirs will be spent. And you don't want the contractor to think you'll run out of money halfway through.

INSTEAD SAY, "We have college tuition (or fill in the blank) coming up, so we need to keep this renovation below X amount. Do you think you could work with us on that?"

NEVER SAY, "That's crazy! My sister got her kitchen for half that!"
unless your sister's contractor is willing to put in a bid on your kitchen.

INSTEAD SAY, "Wow, we weren't expecting that. What makes this project so expensive?  Is there anything we could change to lower costs?" It's possible that the details of your kitchen mean it's a lot more work than your sister's.

Related posts:

Why NYC renovations cost so bloody much 

Is your contractor looking through your underwear drawer?

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