Diva Design Diary

By Holly Peterson

Diva Design Diary is about bringing the latest interior design trends and tips to our existing clients, as well as future clients...enjoy!

Confessions of a Contractor

By Holly Peterson

What do you do that drives him crazy?
What's he really thinking?
How can you get the best from him?

Check out these Q & A's that were asked to an anonymous contractor...
It may be something to think about!

What judgments are you making the first time you meet with a client?
Contractor: This is like a first date — you size up who they are, how they conduct themselves. What's their personality like? Are they hot-tempered? Rude? Dismissive of your suggestions? Indecisive? If they deal with you this way right off the bat, there probably won't be a second date. You have seen the future — and it's not pretty.

What judgments do you think a client is making?
Contractor: They want to be sure you're responsible, fully involved. They’re looking for you to be attentive, direct, honest, courteous. Someone, in other words, they won't mind seeing every day for six months or longer. Can you be part of the family?

What are the worst things a client can say during an interview?
Contractor: "Let's make it quick. I have another guy coming in 20 minutes." and "Is it okay for me to bring in my own subcontractors?" It's insulting. That's why I'm there. You're adding salt to my soup without knowing the whole recipe.

What's the most unrealistic expectation a client has?
Contractor: That the job will be perfect. No such thing. Painting and tiling and brickwork aren't done by machine. They're done by craftsmen — who, yes, are human.

What's the one thing that a client does that drives contractors crazy?
Contractor: Too many change orders in midstream.

What are the warning signs for a client that there's trouble ahead?
Contractor: Simple stuff, really. Is the contractor usually late? Do you make several calls before he gets back to you? Does he delegate the job to one of his crew? Is he careless about keeping the job clean? This is your home after all, not a construction site. Construction is dirty and dusty. But a client sure as heck will be upset if you leave cigarette ashes on the floor and coffee stains on his windowsill.

How do you feel about interior designers and architects?
Contractor: I love designers. They tend to create as they go along, which often leads to a better, or should I say more personalized, job. I like architects, too, don't get me wrong. But they're more authoritative and don't deviate much from the original plans. And they'd prefer you didn't deviate from them, either. Architects pretty much give you a realistic idea from the beginning about what the job is going to end up looking like. Interior designers are more prone to improvisation. In terms of price, things tend to be a wash. Let's say a designer tells you the job will cost $70,000. Well, it might end up costing $100,000 after the changes. Architects tell you the same job will cost $100,000 and it'll wind up being about $100,000, but there won't be many, if any, changes. So their different paths will get you to about the same place.

Any tips for negotiating price?
Contractor: Get more than one bid. Start with the highest-end contractor, the best-stuff-money-can-buy guy. Ask him for a detailed proposal. Take that proposal and copy it, leaving out the costs. Pass it out to subsequent contractors you interview and ask them to fill in the costs. This will give you a good idea of what the job is worth. Be cautious: The lowest bid isn't usually the best. Also, let's say you happen to know a terrific painter who’ll do you a favor on price. Most contractors won't mind that kind of limited subcontracting, especially if you throw a small managerial fee their way. And contractors are like agents, always looking for fresh talent.

What are simple things a client can do to make your life easier?
Contractor: Allow the crew to use your bathroom. You’d be surprised how many clients ask us to go to the nearest gas station or diner. Make the work environment comfortable. If it's 97 degrees and you're remodeling an attic, and the client says don't turn on the AC — that's cruel. Also, maintain an air of diplomacy and good cheer. Please don't yell at us. We're sensitive souls. Wait 15 minutes before you discuss anything that's really upset you.

How does a dream client behave?
Contractor: Polite. Responsive. Appreciative. Pays bills on time. Doesn't make phony promises like, "Once this job is done, I'm going to recommend you to all my rich friends and you'll make lots and lots of money." But at the end of the job, give him a great big hug and say, "Thanks." A card at Christmastime wouldn't hurt, either.

Okay, what have we forgotten?
Contractor: Find out if they're licensed. Ask them to show you the license. Make sure they carry liability insurance, so if one of their guys falls off a ladder and breaks his neck, you're not sued. Likewise, if they cause any damage to your property, you won't have to pay for it. Also: Will they pull all the proper building permits? Do they offer a payment plan? Finally, do a simple gut check: Do you want this guy in your home for the next year?

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