A painter, plumber, carpenter, electrician, heating/cooling or HVAC guy and other skilled tradespeople… line them up like soldiers and there’s often a horror story or funny tidbit about each. Are you nodding your collective heads? Good. For this is the season (before winter comes) when everybody is trying to get outdoor projects done, so it’s a perfect time to address the rigors of hiring the right people to do the work. We’ve each tackled big and small projects, so we think we’re entitled to our opinions and advice.
We believe hiring contractors falls into three categories:
I. Those you can’t recommend enough.
You give them five stars-plus on Yelp and local Moms & Me groups. You recommend them to your friends and family, even the people behind you in the long grocery line when you hear them upset on their cell about not having a good contractor to call. Their high prices for labor are in line with their workmanship so they’re worth every penny. They know quality so well that you listen attentively as they explain to you why the walls need a good coat of primer and three coats to get that glossy effect you saw in a shelter magazine. It will cost you extra, but you will have this work done once with this type of quality work person.
When you appreciate a contractor, here are some things likely to happen.
You’ve had wonderful times together. And because you’re so in love with this expert, you may make them hot coffee in winter, bring them cold water and lemonade in summer and bake them cookies year-round with the best chocolate available. And when the honeymoon period ends, you can’t seem to let go.
Don’t forget gifts at special holidays just because you know you can attract more bees with honey. For these very special types, you might even let them move in if the need arises as it did with Eldon in the 1988-98 TV sitcom “Murphy Brown.”
Secret fantasies about contractors.
In some cases, you might do yet more, and your contractor becomes a family member. It’s happened in real life that one part of a couple has filed for divorce and run off with the contractor. Yes, really. Could that be you?
It’s really all about business.
In the end, remember to put a muzzle on your mouth when it comes to bragging too much about your favorite work staff. They might be fickle and go off with another family even if they like your baking. In the end, it’s all about earning the most dollars possible. The owners of that estate over the hill with a gorgeous pool and hot tub can pay them much more than you can and will let them dip their toes in on hot days. What can you offer to compete? Probably nothing; that’s why you share names with only a few.
II. Those you’d never use or use again.
You’ll have your own perspective on the relationship, but sometimes things can go south. We hate to bad-mouth anybody by name, so we won’t but you’ll probably spot some types you’ve hired—and even sometimes had to fire and sue.
Coats of many colors.
There’s the painter who just didn’t understand that it’s not OK to see the former colors through the supposedly finished coat; he thought one coat was sufficient and you’d be content.
The bathroom break.
Similarly, it’s not OK that the bathroom remodeler got paid 100-percent and didn’t finish everything on the punch list. Yes, we know the rule about NEVER paying until everything’s done, but he was begging for the funds to go see his sick mother in Alaska, or so he said. Live and learn.
Buyer beware! There are contractors--we know one man in particular--who when bidding on a job, came on to his client. He spent one hour talking about the benefits of Testosterone cream. Not sure how that fit into the scheme of redoing a kitchen. We figured he’d work quickly with his elevated high-powered T-levels. Yet, he was nixed out of fear that he’d never leave the house at the end of the day or project.
The reference that keeps on giving.
And then there’s the rule you also forgot about checking with more than one reference since everybody has a sick mother who will offer a reference, even on her deathbed, though maybe not in Alaska.
Of course, there are some who seem frankly nuts as in a Roz Chast cartoon of crazy folks. Face it. We all have enough off-the-wall family members and friends that we don’t need to put a nutcase on our payroll, too. But most of those you might call again who are crazy are because you didn’t follow the list of cardinal rules, including the one about hiring home help intelligently. Yup, basically it’s your fault.
The fast one.
Here’s a crash reminder course in other cardinal rules: besides getting several references, check out work in person and carefully (the painter whose house you saw that looked terrible should never have recommended it as a go-see but you hired him even afterward since he promised you better work). Also, ask that they’re insured and bonded (one friend’s entire jewelry collection went missing after her painter started work. Concealing the jewels under five layers of towels really wasn’t a good hiding place; get a contract in writing even for a small job with details about starting and stopping hours and so on; and pay in thirds withholding the last payment until absolutely everything is completed to your satisfaction.
And if they start arguing with you in person or in emails or texts, don’t escalate and start shrieking. Calm down and explain what needs to be done. Then, never hire that person again.
III. Those you haven’t yet used.
This is a list you cull and add to any time someone says they just had their kitchen remodeled and it’s fabulous—came in on budget, according to the time frame and they just love, love, love everything about it. Get the contractor’s name, phone number and email since you never know when you may want to remodel. Have names as well for backup just in case your great skilled expert is busy mostly because you broke the rule under #1 and told everyone about how fabulous he is. In winter it can be especially tough to find a heating oil company to deliver oil if your company cut back and had too few drivers on staff to meet the needs when storm after storm was passing through your area. Next time, you’ll be prepared.
The witching hour.
At 1 a.m. you’re cursing out your air conditioner company’s owner when your system conks out during a heat wave. Yes, you should have had a name in reserve. Having the name of a great extra plumber is also super smart if you live in a cold climate in winter since it’s easy for pipes to freeze. You call your regular plumber who has earned $150 an hour from you with no arguments and you keep getting his answering machine. You text and zip; then email and mum. Turns out the firm had a great year, thanks to you and all whom you shared the name with, so the very nice owner decided to take everyone away for a company retreat in the Caribbean. You get the point? Even if some work staff don’t make it on to the permanent list when put to the test, there’s always hope you’ll learn.