In my experience, most contractors are honest and competent professionals, but if you hire one who is not, your project can become a nightmare. Think twice before hiring a contractor with...
1. The lowest price by far.
One of our clients received five bids to gut renovate their single family townhouse. The lowest bid was $500,000 less than the next highest bid. The owner hired this contractor and after three months the Department of Buildings slapped a stop work order on their project because of unsafe job site conditions.
The contractor was not competent enough to complete the job so the owner had to hire my firm as a construction manager to supervise the contractor. The owner ended up paying the same as the next highest bidder and the job took longer than if he had hired a competent contractor at first.
The takeaway: If a contractor submits an estimate that is significantly lower in price than competing bids, then chances are that either they did not estimate the job properly or will take short cuts in terms of labor and/or materials. Do not hire them!
2. The fastest schedule by far.
A couple who just bought a downtown loft hired a contractor who promised them that he could finish a gut renovation on their bathroom in three weeks, versus the 4-6 weeks other contractors said the job would take. Five weeks later, with Thanksgiving guests about to arrive, their toilet still isn’t properly installed.
The takeaway: If a contractor tells you that he can complete your job far faster than any other firm, he probably can’t. Most co-ops and condos in New York City restrict work hours to 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday so a contractor’s ability to have his crew extra hours is almost impossible.
Sure, an efficient contractor will finish your job on a timely basis, but that is due to good coordination with subcontractors, and not because they can work 24/7.
If a contractor promises that they can finish your job very quickly, ask them and another bidder to provide you with a detailed weekly schedule for comparison.
3. No backup.
A very competent contractor was hired to renovate a couple’s two-bedroom condo, and when his mother became very sick in Ireland, he had to fly overseas and take care of her.
Since he had a very small firm, none of his workers were trained in how to manage the project, and the couple had to wait three weeks until the contractor was able to return before work resumed.
The takeaway: Hiring a very small contractor who is an owner-operator sometimes results in a lower cost, but I do not recommend it ... unless you can tolerate delays. If the contractor is also the job site supervisor and he does not have any additional staff to help him when he is not there, you are taking a big risk.
A larger contractor has multiple site supervisors who can step in when necessary.
4. Poor communication skills.
I recently visited a job site where the client’s architect carefully explained to the contractor how she wanted hardware to be installed, and the contractor made it clear that he understood exactly what she wanted. That was not the case, as the contractor did not speak English very well. As a result, the contractor installed all the hardware improperly.
The takeaway: When renovating your apartment, there are a lot of decisions that will need to be made regarding finishes and detailed discussions regarding quality expectations and schedules. If you and your contractor do not understand each other perfectly, there can potentially be some costly errors. Hire a contractor with whom you can communicate comfortably in English or whatever language you speak fluently.
5. No technology skills.
I have seen many jobs when a contractor who is not savvy with e-mail or doesn’t have easy access to e-mail all day long is also unwilling to meet in the evenings or weekends. The client then has to take off valuable time from work to accommodate them.
The takeaway: E-mail is a wonderful way to communicate with your contractor, since chances are you do not have the time to meet with him at your apartment during regular business hours.
Be sure to hire a contractor who knows how to send and receive e-mails on a smartphone. Often times a contractor needs a fast decision as to how to proceed on the job site and using e-mail enables you to be accessible when needed.
If a contractor does not use a smartphone or tablet, prepare yourself for a lot of evening and weekend meetings and phone calls.