SF Apartment : September 2016


How to Choose a Contractor

by Tony Thayeri

We’ve all heard horror stories from property owners after they’ve had a negative experience with a contractor or an overall construction or maintenance project. These horror stories often have a common denominator: the property owner hired the contractor who offered them the lowest bid. The property owner made their decision based on price only, which is not a reliable way to choose a contractor.

Of course, cost is an important thing to consider when entering into a contract, but it should not be the only thing. This article offers a simple, fun exercise to help property owners understand how they can compare and hire contractors so that their projects run smoothly and are completed to a high level of satisfaction. 
People often dread the disruption that comes with large construction projects; the construction won’t just affect you, but also your tenants, neighbors, and property manager, to name a few. However, with a little thought and preparation, you can eliminate the disruption from the construction project and have an overall positive experience.

As a professional life coach, one of my goals is to explore with my clients what makes them effective at what they do best. Is there anything specific that they are doing that is leading to their success? Understanding what is important to you and having a clear picture of your end goals are key to completing a project successfully.

After reading this article and completing the exercise, you will have a better understanding of how to make decisions, make them much faster, and feel confident that you’ve chosen the best contractor for your job at a great value. And this goes for hiring any professional service provider, not only contractors.

Downside of Price Shopping
We live in a world that’s always in a hurry, and you, as a property owner, might dread the process of choosing among several bids submitted by contractors. You hesitate, you procrastinate, you put it off, and, maybe, you don’t even know why. 
The reason we all hesitate in making big choices is because the stakes are high.

Sure, you can see right away which bid has the lowest price, but can you trust that contractor to make your life easy? Will he get the work done on time? Treat you with respect? Communicate well with all the affected parties? Stage the work so that it minimizes disruptions to the tenants and neighbors? Stick to the price without filling lots of costly change orders? Inform you honestly if he finds any hidden issues you ought to take care of or opportunities for you to take advantage of?

Consider your hesitation an effective tool instead of an annoyance. Feeling nervous or apprehensive often signifies that you just don’t want to make a casual choice about a complex matter. But still, price is usually the only difference we use to compare contractor bids.

Personal Criteria
The types of things that can go wrong, such as those listed above, are examples of criteria. Price is the universal criterion, and its overall importance will depend project by project, while other items are usually more personal.

Can you remember a time when, after a construction project was finished, you felt great about it and just knew you got the best value? The reason you felt so great was because all of your most important criteria were taken care of. Going forward, the goal is to feel that positively about all of your projects.

The exercise below is designed to help you realize all of your most important personal decision factors. Once you know them, you can tell your potential contractors what—in addition to price—you want them to detail for you in their proposals. You’ll learn how to eliminate confusion; receive and give clear, detailed information; and make choices quickly and comfortably.

Plus, it’s fun. You’ll learn something about yourself that you probably never knew. After completing the exercise below, you’ll find it much easier to compare contractors and choose one whom you feel confident about. The key is to ask each bidder to address all of your criteria, and you’ll base your decision on the comparison of all of the answers.

Bid Basics
So, how do you discover what’s most important to you? Below is my preferred method for helping my clients make good choices that they feel great about. It’s a simple one-two-three approach.

List all the things you value and care about for the project (your criteria).
Then consider each item and rearrange from most important to least important. You might write each of your top five on index cards and then stack them in order of importance.

Communicate your criteria when requesting bids from contractors.

When you receive bids and interview contractors, score each on how well they understand what is most important to you. Notice both what they say and how they say it. Focus on how you feel when they talk about each criterion.

We all know that price is an important criterion. But what you may not know, initially, is what else is most important to you. Below is a list of sample criteria that I put together based on my clients’ most common needs. You might find that this list of questions includes what’s important to you, or you might find that it creates a reaction because something is missing. If that’s the case, just notice what that reaction in you is trying to tell you. Keep writing down ideas that come to you until you’re comfortable moving forward.

Communication skills: Does the contractor listen to me and understand my criteria? Do I get the sense that he can communicate clearly and easily with me and my property manager? Will he be considerate of and work well with my tenants?

Knowledge and experience: Does he know as much about buildings and foundations as my doctor knows about bodies? Do I trust him to be candid, fair, and honest if he finds anything that’s not right?

Timelines: Can he deliver the project on time? Does he foresee any costly delays?

Quality: What is the quality of his craftsmanship? Can he show me samples of previous relevant work?

Insurance: Is he properly insured for the scope of work? (You won’t save money if you file a claim for an uninsured contractor, but he’ll show the best bid.)
Price: Of course you want a good price, and this should be considered, but it should be weighted alongside your other criteria.

Extras: Would he be able to add a new unit to my building, should we find the potential?

Communicate Your Criteria
So now that you’ve figured out what’s most important to you, it’s time to communicate it. Describe your criteria clearly to each contractor from whom you’re requesting a proposal. Also ask for a list of references when you’ve narrowed down your search to one or two contractors. Have your criteria in front of you for an easy and efficient reference check. Be sure to ask how the contractor performed specifically in regards to your top three criteria.

The Decision Is Easy
As you start to incorporate this approach when hiring contractors and other supply vendors, you may find that you select contractors and bids that, in the past, you might have said were too expensive. You’ll also see by the project’s completion that you’re more frequently getting what you want, with fewer surprises and fewer unexpected added costs. When you are clear about the process and end result that you want, and are able to communicate it, the workflow and finished product will reflect that. 

Tony Thayer is a business development consultant and personal success coach specializing in helping small businesses to grow. He works with businesses serving property owners, and his clients include SteelCore Builders (a structural strengthening contractor, focused on seismic upgrades) and Saelger Shading, a window-treatment showroom at the SF Design Center. He also trains business people in communication, decision-making and interpersonal conflict skills. He can be contacted at 925-323-8590 or by email at thayer.tony@gmail.com.