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The Different Types of Home Improvement Contractors and How To Work with Them

A remodel in progress

Through my own experiences and getting to know fellow real estate investors, I’ve come to classify contractors into three categories:

 

Assassins. Assassins are contractors that charge a very high premium. They seek out homeowners who don’t question the cost of a job and can easily pay twice to three times the normal price. Even with such a premium, there’s no guarantee they do quality work. Also keep in mind, assassins refer you to other assassins.

 

Volume Tradesmen. These are experienced tradesmen who can get the work done. They tend to look for and continuously work for builders and investors since they can provide steady work. They will be 1/2 to 1/3 the price of assassins.

 

Emerging Tradesmen. These are people new to the field. They may have little to no experience, but they are willing to put a day’s work in. You may find the need to constantly keep an eye on them, not because they’ll try something bad, it’s that they simply lack experience and may do silly things. For example, I hired one of these to build a small retaining wall, he did nothing for 1.5 hours until I was ready again to explain how to move one brick up on a retaining wall. While it may be intuitive to many of us, it’s not necessarily true for everyone.

 

There are other contractors such as established firms, and they generally focus on hiring Volume and Emerging Tradesmen.

How to Find Contractors

For homeowners who are not stressed about money, they will often ask their fellow neighbors either from Facebook groups or apps like Nextdoor. These contracts are almost assassins. I was at a community event the other day I got to talking with a neighbor who was having their bathroom remodeled. She said she was paying $10,000 for the work and was quite happy with the work she was seeing. So while I thought she may have been paying twice as much as she should (the $10,000 was labor only, she was paying for materials), I was a bit surprised to hear her say she’d pay $30,000 as she didn’t care. She may have been joking, but it struck me as she was serious. Assassins do have a market, and the clever ones know how to exploit it.

But if you’re a bit more budget conscious, I would switch to asking individuals whose judgment you trust on who they’ve used. This one-on-one discussion is more natural, and as you check out their work, you can see the prices they charge. Granted they may have used an assassin without knowing it, but that’s why you keep asking around, eventually, you’ll find a Volume Tradesman.

If you are in the real estate investing world, then the best place for you is fellow investors. Volume Tradesmen know their reputation means everything, and word will get around quickly if they don’t do good work. Just like Assassins, Volume Tradesmen know other Volume Tradesmen, so be sure to ask them for recommendations.

If you have the time, energy, and patience, you can also hire an Emerging Tradesman. To find them, I tend to look for people who recently graduated high school and still figuring out what they want to do. You can also try calling trade schools and see if they can put you in touch with people who are looking for work.

Verifying the Scope of Work

Unfortunately, you must have some sense of what works needs to be done to successfully engage a contractor. For example, this is an agreed-upon list of tasks I had written up with a contractor I hired to do a bathroom remodel.

Shower/Tub:

*  Install a 2x4x8 on the left and right sides of the outside of the shower.  These will be needed for the shower door frame install    

*  Install 1/2″ concrete board on 3 walls above the tub, approximately 6 feet high 

*  Install edging on the outside left and right side walls as well as on the top of the 3 walls approximately 6 feet high.  As we discussed material used can be bull nose tile (need 30 lineal feet) that coordinates with the wall tile and you would purchase metal Schluter strips that I can purchase. Just let me know how you want to proceed.

*  Install 80 sqft of tile on the wall

*  Install 3 glass shelves

*  Apply sealant to the wall before tiling

*  Grout tile (please purchase unsanded grout, unmixed and color of choice) 

Note: I will arrange to have my plumber stop by prior to me installing the tile to install the new shower mixer valve that you will provide 

Floor:

*  Install 1/4″ concrete board.  Glue and screw down

*  Install two 28″ doorway thresholds/transition strips. As we discussed they can either be marble (white, beige, or black) or a Schluter strip such as the one shown above.  Let me know what you prefer.  I can purchase what you choose.

*  Install 40sqft of tile

*  Grout tile (please purchase sanded grout, unmixed and color of choice) 

Vanity:

* Remove door moldings

* Install vanity and vanity top

* Install faucets

Toilet:

* Install the toilet provided

Miscellaneous:

* Install shoe molding and caulk

* Install new light

Do you see how detailed that is? It not only says “install tile” but “install 80 sq ft tile”. This way if there’s disagreement about whether something should be tiled, all you have to do is measure the area and determine if that’s covered by the 80 sq ft. Again, unfortunately, the buyer has to know quite a bit in order to get a decent agreement in place.

Old bathtub waiting to be pulled out.

Summary

It’s important to understand who you want to hire, and what a reasonable price is. This will help you sort out who to hire for what job.

Also, regardless of who you hire, unfortunately, you have to have some idea of what it takes to complete the job, otherwise, you won’t know if the job was done correctly. For example, a neighbor hired a contractor, but I discovered mid-way through a bathroom remodel that the contractor didn’t put down sealant between the tile and wall, meaning any water that gets past the tile (for example cracks in the grout) will get soaked up by the wall. You may not notice the impact immediately, but after a few years, you’ll start to notice that something is wrong.