NYC Renovation Chronicles

NYC Renovation Chronicles: 4 difficult clients - and how not to be one

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Just as clients prefer to work with certain types of contractors, contractors prefer certain types of clients....Here are four examples of clients contractors try to avoid.

1.Clients who argue in front of our crew

When working in someone’s home you see a lot of their private habits:  What they talk to their friends about, what they like to eat, etc.

One thing a client should keep private are arguments with a spouse. We have one client that insists on berating his wife in front of our crew about “her stupid decisions” and her “inability to do anything right.” 

Aside from feeling sorry for his sweet wife, the husband’s tirades distract my crew and create an unpleasant work environment.  Causing skilled tradespeople to be distracted when they are performing exacting work is not ideal, and some workers may feel so uncomfortable they will rush to finish up the job and get out of the hostile environment.

Takeaway: If you need to argue with your significant other (and sometimes you just do), do it in private. 

2.Clients who want a discount after the job is done

Most contractors provide guaranteed pricing, and during renovations there may be specific tasks that were harder or easier to perform than originally estimated.

The contractor takes this risk as an estimate is just that, and in older apartments and townhouses there are a lot of variables that impact the amount of time needed to perform a certain task. 

We had a client who agreed to a guaranteed price and was upset when she realized that we tiled the bathroom very quickly and thought that since we did the job so fast that we should give her a discount.

I explained that our prices are guaranteed and on some line items we profit more than expected and on some we lose money due to a mistake in estimation. I wondered, if the homeowner would like a credit on the tile work would she be willing to pay us extra for the plumbing work which cost us much more than we estimated?

Takeaway: If your contractor is a good guy that did a great job, do not begrudge him for making a profit

3.Clients who want a friend (i.e., an unlicensed tradesperson) to help so they can save money

New York City is the most highly regulated construction market in the United States, and every contractor must be licensed and insured to work in your home.

Last month a homeowner asked me to hire a friend of a friend who is an unlicensed plumber to work on my project in their apartment. I explained to them that it is just not possible.

If they damage the home or get hurt the owner and the general contractor could be liable. 

Takeaway: Let your professional general contractor hire his own subcontractors.

4. Clients that want you to work without a permit

You need a work permit in New York City to perform a lot of renovations that in other parts of the country you can do without any governmental supervision.

The penalties in New York for working without the proper permits start at $5,000 and up. 

Some clients think they can avoid the cost of hiring an architect and expediter by convincing their contractor to work without a permit. The problem is that if the contractor gets caught working without a permit, their firm can get fined and even lose their license.

Working without a permit can also cause problems for an owner when it's time to sell. Sophisticated real estate lawyers can compare the existing condition of the apartment to approved plans and if there is a discrepancy, it can hold up a sale.  

Takeaway: If you find a contractor who is willing to work without a lawfully mandated permit, can you really trust him to work on your home?


Yoel Borgenicht is the president of King Rose Construction, specializing in residential and commercial renovations in the New York City metro area.


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