Not Doing It Myself

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Do you have any good rules for working with contractors? I just saw a
friend pay thousands to a “general contractor” during a kitchen
remodel when she did virtually all the work herself making decisions
and scheduling the various cabinet, counter, tile etc specialists. I have
strong opinions about what I want and am not shy about expressing
them, but I also know that single women are sometimes taken
advantage of by car salesmen and contractors. I have a budget and I
have done my research. It’s just a matter of whose hands do the
actual work. I also have the brains to know that they won’t be mine.

Not Doing It Myself

Dear Not Doing:

The more complicated the remodel, the more specialists you are going
to have deal with. The reason people use a general contractor is to
coordinate them, not just who does what when but to make sure that
all the pieces fir in the right places in the right way. A general
contractor is paid to make sure that happens. You can try to play that
role, but if you do you increase the risk that fingers pointed after
something goes wrong will be pointed at you.

My suggestions: Avoid using the person you think took too much from
your friend. Interview people who come re commended by other
friends. Sit down with them after you take the following steps. Talk on
the phone and describe your project. Send an email describing
everything from your time frame to your preferences in materials. Give
them links to websites, pictures of what you like, and identify specific
things unique to your project they would need to know. Then who they
use for specific subcontracting tasks, and for a bid for each phase of
the work. Note that a bid and an estimate are very, very different. A
bid means the contractor is obligated to perform the work for that
price. An estimate is a finger pointing in the direction of costs, which
can go much higher. Also have them identify any mark-up percentage
they add to the subs’ work, and identify their own fees.

Virtually every construction or remodel project ends up costing more
than originally estimated. It also ends up taking longer. The best
advice is this: work with a contractor you like and trust, preferably one
that comes with references from people you know, and whose projects
you can look at with your own eyes. Then be around as much as
possible while the work is done and have regular communication with
the contractor. It’s a fine dance between being involved and being a
pest. The old sign in the auto shop says it best: Fast, right, cheap –
pick any two.