Contracting with Contractors

By on 12 November, 2015 in Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

IMG_1834Over the eight years we’ve lived in Montgomery, we’ve had more than our share of contractors working in our house. We’d purchased and hoped to fix up and maintain a beautiful old home here, but looking back it’s fair to say that we didn’t really know what we were getting into. Regular readers of MML know some of the projects that we’ve done in our home, which was built in 1930 and is in the Cloverdale-Idlewild neighborhood. We have certainly learned a lot about what’s involved with historic homes, especially if you care (as we do) about keeping it within the styles appropriate to its period.

We’re in the middle of a massive (and entirely unplanned) construction project that we’ll write about when it’s done, but since we’ve had workers in and around our home for nearly six weeks now (and plenty of experience with all of our prior projects), we thought we’d share some of the best practices we’ve observed from working with a number of different contractors over the years. It’s also a wish list for any future contractors.

  1. Give us a clear scope of work with upfront pricing. We want to know what, exactly, you’re going to do to to the house. In writing. We know how we want the end result to look, but we’d like to hear your expert thoughts on the process to get there.We also want to know how much it will cost so that we can make sure you get paid. We know that circumstances change, and there might be more work than you were expecting. That’s perfectly fine – just tell us so we can figure out if we can afford it (or how to move the money around to make it happen).
  2. Tell us what days and times workers will be at the house. We’re okay with getting up at 7:30 a.m. to let folks in to work. But we’re not okay with rearranging our days when you don’t show up, or show up at noon. Often, we take time off of our own work to make yours possible – please respect that. Also, we have pets, and preparing them to have strangers in the house requires a little bit of notice. It’s just the professional thing to do.
  3. Offer to show us what you’re doing. We know we’re not experts in home repair. That’s why we hired you. But as homeowners, we want to see what work you’ve done and what progress you’ve made. Sometimes, a quick demonstration is worth a thousand words.
  4. Tell us when you’re leaving. It’s weird to look up and see that you’ve left in the middle of the day. Are you coming back? Can we lock up and run errands now? Please just knock on the door and let us know you’re done for the day. It’s a small but important courtesy. Also, it’d be great to end the day with an opportunity to ask questions and a sense of the timeline moving forward. We’re often flexible, but information is always appreciated.
  5. Please pick up after yourself. We know that job sites can be very messy. It’s okay to store your equipment in the yard or the shed. But please don’t leave trash in our house or yard. A simple trash bag at the work site can handle food wrappers, drink containers and cigarette butts. And please take away waste from the job site instead of assuming that our hard-working city sanitation folks are going to pick it up. A sidebar on those cigarette butts: It’d be great to ask permission about smoking in (or near) the house. Some homeowners are more sensitive than others on the matter of cigarette smoke. We don’t want to meddle with your addictions, but some basic consideration would be greatly appreciated.
  6. These concerns and requests are amplified if there are homeowners present. It’s okay if you want to play some music and talk while you work. We understand this makes the day better for you. But please, if we’re present, try to keep it reasonable. A lot of people work from their homes these days. So that means you are making a mess in a structure that is a home and an office. In particular, please don’t argue loudly with each other where we can hear it. Our most recent contractors seem to love accusing each other of breaking tools, which seems impolite, but also diminishes our confidence in the quality of your work. If you want to have a screaming match with your ex while you’re on the job, please take your cell phone out in the yard.
  7. Consider the effects of your work on the rest of the house. Tape off doors if there is going to be dust, and provide dropcloths for sensitive electronic equipment that might be nearby. If there are going to be toxic fumes, please bring your own fan or other ventilation equipment. It’s amazing how many work crews seem to think that they are working in an isolated vacuum. It turns out that all of the rooms in our house lead to all of the other rooms.
  8. Make your own bathroom arrangements. It’s okay if, every once in a while, you knock on the door and need to use the bathroom. Bringing a port-a-potty to a job site (even if you’re going to be there for a while) can be expensive. So, we’re OK with sharing our plumbing and facilities with workers that may have guzzled too much Mountain Dew while on the job. We’d much rather you came inside than go pee behind the shed out back. That’s just not okay.Also, if you’ve got to come inside, it’d be great if you took notice of your shoes. Tromping mud and sawdust through the rest of the house is less than ideal, and could easily be averted by using a doormat.
  9. If there’s collateral damage from your work, please fix it to our satisfaction. Sometimes banging around in one part of the house causes problems in other parts. When this happens, we expect you to be attentive when we point out issues and fix them. We’ve had contractors do everything from break a pipe to disconnect air conditioning ductwork. Recent hammering in one room broke tiles in another room. Just be honest, and let us know how we can minimize collateral damage. Then repair any.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, fifteen fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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