I’ve been in sales for 35 years, and I’ve owned Masters Touch for over 20 years. When I need a service provided at my home, a mechanic, or if I’m looking to purchase a new lawnmower, I don’t want to get multiple prices. Instead, I ask friends and family what company they recommend. Nothing beats a personal referral. Rather than worry about price, instead, focus on service and quality and you’ll be better off in the long run.
So why do so many Massachusetts homeowners drive themselves crazy chasing unprofessional contractors hoping to get their home updated for the lowest price possible? Good question. For most families, their home is their number one investment. Why cut corners or expose yourself to undue risks by hiring a cheap, unprofessional, and many times inexperienced contractor? When it comes to home improvements, the old cliché “you get what you pay for” is on point. Here are some tips to help you find a reputable contractor that is a good match for your needs. (Hint, price is not an important factor.)
Establish a budget and share it with your contractor at the beginning of the process. If you are just gathering prices and haven’t established a budget, a savvy salesperson will pick up on this right away. Just be honest and talk about the budget together.
An experienced home improvement contractor will help you make adjustments to your gross budget and allowance items such as cabinetry, windows, and flooring. They also will be frank with you and let you know if your budget is realistic or not. So, instead of wasting everyone’s time, make sure you are on the same page from the start. I will not visit with a client if they will not provide a budget over the phone. It usually means they are not serious about the project or haven’t put much effort into planning yet.
A cheap contractor is not likely to provide an accurate assessment and estimate of your project. First of all, an estimate is not a fixed quote. Estimates can vary wildly in price and accuracy depending on how experienced the person preparing it is. It’s not reasonable to expect a contractor to look at your blueprints or prepare a conceptual design and budget in 30 to 60 minutes. Depending on the type of project, this is several hours of work or more. An experienced bidder will have systems in place to help flesh out a budget range and will have many dozens of similar jobs to reference for pricing.
Initial budgeting really comes down to experience and mutual trust between the client and the contractor. I have lost many jobs over the years to “cheaper bids” or as some clients like to say, “more competitive.” More often than not, I hear from those folks a year or two later wanting me to work with them on their next project. “What about the contractor with the more competitive bids?” I ask.
“What a disaster. The job was under-bid. We were hit with 30% cost overruns in change orders and things we assumed were included but were not. We really messed up and should have hired you to begin with. You were honest about the price, about what it would cost to do the job. Even worse, the work took forever and it still isn’t right. We didn’t save a nickel going with the cheap guy, and now he won’t call us back!”
Alas, inexperience is only one way a cheap contractor may underbid work. Unfortunately, there are more than a few unethical companies out there that will intentionally underbid work. They know that once demolition is done, they have you trapped and you’ll be forced to sign change orders. The relationship quickly deteriorates and the entire experience becomes a disaster.
Another disadvantage with cheap contractors is their lack of organizational skills. A small, cheap contractor might be juggling too many tasks and unable to focus on your job. Running several jobs and trying to keep them stocked and financed, bidding work, payroll, making sure all the subs are properly insured, keeping you updated on your job. It’s a lot to handle.
An inexperienced contractor will not have the business savvy to deliver a positive experience. Again, you get what you pay for. Simply ask your family and friends. How was the experience? Was the job on time and on budget? Good quality work?
Trust referrals and you’ll be a lot better off than spending months looking for the lowest bidder. Hiring a low cost, uninsured, unprofessional contractor will cost you more in the long run every time. You’ll also be stressed out and miserable living through the process, and likely have a fractured relationship at the end of the job. That means you’ll never get them to come back for follow up visits when you need them.
I know there are many folks out there reading this and nodding along because they’ve been through this. Frankly, my best and most loyal customers are the ones who’ve been burned (or victimized) by a cheap contractor. Once you’ve been through that, you’ll never want to relive the experience. You might say I’m preaching to the choir, but hopefully this article will be read by newer homeowners and help them understand that to focus on price and make that a priority over a trusting relationship and quality work is a recipe for heartbreak.