Sunday, November 04, 2007

Watch Out for the Arrogant Contractor

By Mark J. Donovan

It has been about 2.5 years now since I started and I created these sites to share my experiences, and allow others to share theirs, on home construction projects. As I have always made it clear, I am not a professional contractor. By profession I am an electrical engineer, and marketing manager who has worked in the high tech industry for 25 years. This said, I am also a veteran homeowner of 20+ years who has gone through many home addition, home remodeling and home construction projects.

My experience with home construction began as a 10 year old kid, helping my father build a couple of family room additions, sheds, and two houses. Since purchasing my own first home, I have completed many home construction projects. My projects have included finishing basements and unfinished upstairs, putting on attached garages and family rooms, remodeling kitchens and bathrooms, and even acting as my own general contractor on building one of my homes. This final project, building my own custom home, was actually showcased on the DIY Network back in 2005 (Being your Own General Contractor – Vacation Homes).

One of the greatest skills I have learned throughout my years being involved in home construction projects is how to find the right building contractor. In particular, I have learned how to discern the differences between a good contractor and an arrogant contractor. Note that I say arrogant contractor and not a bad contractor. Bad contractors are usually easy to spot, if you check their references and you ask a few questions. The arrogant contractor, on the other hand is a little cagier. As a matter of fact, the arrogant contractor may actually be good at his trade. However, he is the type of contractor that is impossible to work with. He is the primo Dona that talks a lot of bravado. He’s the guy that wants you to work your build schedule around his. He is inflexible and is always right, and is never hesitant to tell you this fact.

My experience has been to avoid the arrogant contractor like the plague. He is the type of contractor that forgets you’ve hired him, and instead thinks you work for him. Besides being just plain obnoxious to deal with, this type of contractor also has the tendency to fast talk you into spending more money than you need or having extra work done that is not required.

The trick is identifying the arrogant contractor, before you’ve hired him. Over the years I have learned a few basic techniques in exposing the arrogant contractor before I have hired him.

First, always check the references. Make sure when you call or visit the references you ask them how was their experience working with the contractor. If the reference expounds on the virtues of the contractor for 15 minutes you probably have identified a contractor that you will be able to work with. On the other hand, if the reference gives you a “yes, he got the job done” type answer, then this should be a warning sign. Don’t hesitate to probe further with the reference.

Second, find out who the prospective contractor uses as his material suppliers. Visit the suppliers and ask them their experience with the contractor. You’ll quickly learn if he pays his bills on time and is good to work with. If the contractor does not want to share with you his material suppliers’ names, then this is a clear warning sign to stay away from him.

Third, interview the prospective contractor when he provides you with a bid for the project. Really try to get to know the contractor during this process. If during the interview, you feel the contractor is dismissing your questioning or is giving you half answers, then stay away from him. Do not assume that he is just a busy guy that doesn’t have time for your na├»ve questions. If he is unwilling to explain his bid thoroughly during the proposal phase of a project, then chances are he will become even more difficult to work with once he has your signature on his contract and your deposit in the bank.

Finally, place a couple of calls to him during the bidding / proposal phase of your home construction project. See if he returns your calls promptly and answers your questions. If he does not, chances are you are seeing how he will operate once you have hired him.

To conclude, there are many good contractors to choose from when starting a new home construction project. You just have to find them. The fundamental technique in finding a good contractor for you building project is to get to know him first, before you sign a contract with him. Make sure you check the references and suppliers, and spend some time with him during the bidding phase of your project to really get to know him. If the references check out, and you feel completely comfortable with him during the proposal phase of the project, chances are you have avoided hiring the arrogant contractor.