Struggling to find a good contractor?
Right now good builders - those who deliver high-quality work on time and on budget - are picking and choosing who they work for. All of the contractors I know and trust are booked out for months.
Waiting for a "better time" to start your project isn't likely to improve your chances of finding a good contractor. The number of young people choosing careers in construction has been on the decline for years, so, as journeyman carpenters, tile setters, and wall-paper hangers retire not enough apprentices are stepping up to take their places.
Where does that leave you when you're ready to remodel?
You don't want to hire the first outfit that can start work. You want to have your choice of the best firms. You want to get the best service and a fair price.
Finding a good contractor is like dating. Or, maybe like being the HR manager in the competitive world of tech start-ups. To have your choice of the very best life partners - or job candidates - you need to be more than available. You need to be attractive.
So, what's attractive to a builder?
First, know what you want.
Ideally, that means having a set of architectural plans that clearly outlines the work to be completed. With clear plans, each contractor you're interviewing can prepare a complete and cohesive bid - a bid she feels confident about. What's more, you can make "apples-to-apples" comparisons between bids and choose the builder who offers you the best value.
Second, be realistic with your budget.
If you're pursuing multiple bids - and you really should - you're going to get real-world feedback about what it will cost to complete your project. If your bids are coming in between $50,000 and $60,000, don't try to get someone to do the work for $30,000. Experienced contractors know that kind of cost-cutting is a recipe for disaster. Instead, simplify your plans so that your contractor can do a good job for $30,000.
I talked with Eric Rude, President of Pro Level Construction in Pleasant Hill, California, about what advice he would give homeowners who want to attract a qualified and dependable contractor. He said, "Know your budget. People are often cagey about that because they're afraid their contractor is going to gouge them. I want to know if you have enough money to do the project so that I can jump in with both feet and get started. If you don't know your budget, know what what you want. If you know what you want, I can tell you approximately how much it will cost, and you can decide if you want to spend the money or not."
Third, show you'll be a good partner.
Like all of us, contractors want to work with people who will let them do a good job. That means a homeowner who is available, approachable, and flexible.
Construction is hard. Unexpected issues will arise. Some expenses will be higher than you anticipated. Know that. Be patient. Be kind. Listen. And, chances are, you'll get that and more back from your builder. If you think about it, that's not bad advice for dating either.