3 Things I Love About A Good Contractor
If you’ve ever experienced the stress of finding a good contractor, sometimes it feels like playing Roulette at the local casino. It can be difficult to know if you have found a good one or not. You get copies of their license, call their references, meet with them, get estimates and still, YOU DON’T KNOW. Aside from my 3 favorite things about a good contractor, if they show an eagerness to keep the lines of communication running smoothly, that’s a good sign. There are many articles on this subject, so I’m going to bypass those and get to my top 3.
Here they are:
The know if an assembly or system will work.
A good contractor can look at construction documents and tell you whether a design will work or whether it needs adjusting. They can tell you whether a system or assembly will be efficient or not. Architects and designers and visionaries. And sometimes, they don’t like being told “it can’t be done”. But wait a minute. Is it really a flat No, it can’t be done or is it No, but we can tweak this design a little bit to make it work? A good contractor with experience will have a lot of knowledge to share. It might be a matter of the design as it is wins, but they still are loaded with options.
I like watching YouTube channels by General Contractors where they show how they build and what they’ve learned. They can explain how a detail will fail over time and what to do about it. Good contractors a like a good library. They’re loaded with information and they’re worth listening to and joy to work with.
They take their reputation seriously
A good contractor is interested in building long term relationships with clients, other professionals in their field, even their employees. Here’s a few things they do to build on these three
a. Long term retainer of employees.
I had a boss years ago that shocked me the first year I worked for him when he handed me a $1000.00 Christmas bonus. Everyone got one. Some more than others. But it was far more than I had ever received from an employer. I didn’t know a boss could be so generous!
Every year the company would alternate between adult dinner parties and all-expense paid family outings to Disneyland. That started with a huge Christmas bonus. I was a single parent just going through a divorce. I was really upset that year as Christmas got closer and closer. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for Christmas presents for my son.
As soon as work was over that day, I raced home, grabbed my son, deposited the check and hightailed it to the children’s stores to go shopping! I didn’t even look at price tags. I just piled things in the cart! That little gesture meant so much to me as it did for every employee. The check was an answer to prayer and I've never forgotten the impact that firm had on my homelife.
Good contractors have happy employees. They care about them and they show it by making sure they pay them on time, pay them well, and create a strategy that will help them retain their employees’ long term.
They also strive to create a positive work environment that their employees will love coming to every day. A business will die if it remains stagnant. A good contractor is going to continue to find ways to show their employees how much they appreciate them and challenge them to improve and expand their knowledge. Not by offering gifts that are insulting or insincere gestures, but by taking the time to show them in ways that matter to the employee and give incentives to encourage their team to continue to strive for excellence.
b. They do their best to stick to the schedule and budget of the client, and work with the team to keep things on track.
Schedules can get a little nuts during construction. Organizing trades and making sure their materials are there waiting for them is a challenging task and unpredictable. But some contractors don’t care about the schedule. If you have to hire a public union contractor, some are more concerned about milking the project for as many billable hours as they can. I knew a subcontractor who was hired as part of a union job who bragged about spending his days on site watching TV and playing cards. All to extend the duration of the project. That’s how we end up with $5000 toilets in government buildings.
A good contractor can see how that sort of conduct can affect his reputation with other prospective clients and will enforce efficiency among his workers and subcontractors no matter what sort of job it is.
c. They strive to communicate with the architect/designer and client efficiently
I’ve heard complaints on all sides of this debate. I’ve heard architects complain about contractors making dumb mistakes. I’ve heard contractors complain about architects and their pipe dreams. I’ve heard a pastor complain about architects saying he’s convinced they’re a waste of money and he can design his own church building, thank you very much.
Personally, I think this battle is more about ego than reality. A good way to alleviate this problem is through appreciation of each other’s role, their experience in their trade and a willingness to listen, communicate and work together as a team. And that includes the owner. If you’ve ever been in the middle of a project and the owner comes driving up with their list of changes and they’re not budging on the timeline, you know that the client plays an equally important role in completion of the project. Granted, a three-way conversation is not always easy. But a good contractor is going to make a good faith effort to keep that communication line running smoothly.
d. They network
Good contractors’ network with other contractors, other trades, real estate investors, architects, city planning officials. They are good at building a strong network of strong relationships. The benefits of a wide and deep network, building friendships in their industry is one of the most valuable acts a business owner can do.
I used to work for an architectural firm that had 3 principals. One was constantly out of the office. We barely saw him, although I liked him the best. The other two never left the office although they did know a lot people. The first principal brought in a lot of small projects. The bread and butter of their firm. The other two focused on the larger builds. When the first principal decided to break from the firm, the fear was he was going to take 90% of their clients with him. It was a legitimate, yet self-inflicted blow to the firm’s survival.
I learned from him to never underestimate the value of small projects. They go fast and you are constantly meeting and interacting with people. Small projects are a powerful secret to building your network. And they're great when you are just launching a business or building business in a new area.
They are the “boots on the ground” for the designer or architect.
No one has better knowledge on whether all of the marketing material and data reports on the latest and greatest product lives up to their name than a good contractor. A good contractor is going to revisit their previous builds over time to see how they are holding up. They are the first ones to find out if there is a failure.
Once I watched a show by a general contractor who repairs do-it-yourselfers or another contractor’s work. A family had their house sprayed with foam insulation. They started noticing their health and their children’s health deteriorating.
Not long after, the family had to move out of their house and into a camper parked in their driveway because the insulation was toxic. They lived there for a year before the GC came knocking on their door. The entire house had to be stripped down to the studs, re-insulated with Styrofoam insulation and re-drywalled. It was a nightmare.
A good contractor is staying up to date and informed about these sorts of situations and can effectively educate the owner, and discuss alternative solutions with the designer or architect.
One of my new favorite YouTube channels is by this guy, Matt Risinger, who puts out great content about product performance and introduced me to the Building Science Corporation. I encourage you to check them out.