Mystery Date: Meeting the Contractors
The most crucial decision I made in my remodeling project was selecting a general contractor. The contractor would manage the schedule and budget, maintain the quality of the work, and, along with his or her team, be working inside of my home for several weeks.
To help make such an important decision, a decision that more and more homeowners are faced with, there just aren’t good resources to turn to. Unlike finding a plumber to unclog the sink or a roofer to fix a leak, it doesn’t feel right to turn to Yellow Page listings, retailer recommendations, or even word of mouth to find a contractor to remodel your home. There’s too much money and time involved and too much that could go wrong. That’s one reason I’m excited about Swee10, because it brings homeowners a reliable database of local contractors, with details about their experience and photos of completed projects. And it gives contractors a chance to review drawings and photos or remodel projects to find ones that would be right for them.
Because I’m an architect I was able reach out to colleagues who specialized in residential work for references. I gathered contact information for four contractors who had worked successfully with colleagues on small-scale remodels similar to my own. This gave me confidence that I could not make the “wrong” decision, that no matter which contractor I selected, they would complete the work responsibly.
But meeting each of the contractors, who were all men, was a little bit like playing “Mystery Date.” I mailed each one drawings of the new kitchen and bathroom design and a stack of product specifications. Then I met each of them individually to show them through my apartment. Although I interviewed them carefully I was most strongly impressed by their personalities, by who they were as men rather than contractors. In the end it was their character rather than anything in particular they said regarding the remodel work that mattered most.
I liked all the contractors I met. Each one was punctual and courteous, and articulate and knowledgeable about residential interior work. But there were some red flags. One man had a bearish, paternal, Old World sort of personality. He continually bragged about his accomplishments, both personal and professional. And he continually told me what I wanted to do. “YOU WANT a stone shelf in the bathroom,” and “YOU WANT a glass tile backsplash.” What I really wanted to do was respond, “Well, actually, I’m an architect and what I want is what I’ve shown in the drawings.”
Another contractor was at the opposite end of the confidence scale. He was painfully reserved and careful not to offend. He nodded his head in agreement to all that I said but revealed little of what he thought until I asked him outright. It seemed as if it would be difficult for him to face problems directly or deliver bad news, as contractors are sometimes required to do.
When I met Martin, the contractor I am working with now, he impressed me with a balance of pragmatism and idealism. He spoke freely and also listened. He had reviewed the drawings beforehand, but referenced details and products he had used in other projects to make suggestions.
In addition Martin is married to my friend Kristin, a warm and wonderful person. I liked him automatically, irrationally, by association. Although the conventional wisdom is that one should not do business with friends I felt that in this case it really didn’t apply. I called an architect that Martin had worked with before and received an excellent recommendation. Although I still needed to review bids from all the contractors, I had a hunch that I would be working with Martin.