Three outrageous ways to pick a contractor that are better than using a bid
There are a few time honored traditions in America…buying TVs on the day after Thanksgiving, picking a form of beige for our wall paint, and comparing three bids to pick a contractor. There is a little bit of silliness in all three of these traditions, but I’m focusing on the last one. It isn’t just silly, it is wrong, and can have disastrous consequences.
In my last post I explained why competitive bids are more like “apples to potatoes” than “apples to apples”. Unless you are a professional property manager, or have a 30 page set of architectural plans and specs, these bids say more about the assumptions of the contractor than they do about the true cost of a project. Using them as one of the main factors in choosing who to work with is extremely unreliable, and many times leads to the exact wrong answer. Why? The best, most competent contractors tend to be the ones that leave fewer things out of the bid, and include higher allowances for items. This means that a lay person simply lacks the information to decide who is the ridiculously cheap goober, who is the well priced winner, and who is the profit-bloated high-roller.
So if competitive bids don’t work, how do you choose a good contractor? Here are three outrageous ways to choose, all of which are far better and more accurate than using the “bottom line” of the initial bid:
Method #1: Judge us by our outfit
They say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but that doesn’t stop me from reading the title. You want a contractor that cares about appearances, and doesn’t like a mess. There are exceptions, but if the guy has a wrinkled shirt, or stains on his clothes, he is telling you how cleanliness ranks in his list. You are seeing him at his job interview. Would you dress like that for a job interview? Why should we? He doesn’t need a suit, just a clean, collared shirt, a clean pair of jeans, and clean shoes. Definitely watch the shoes. If he doesn’t care about that now, why would he care when you aren’t looking?
Method #2: How do you spell “vacuum”?
There are few qualities that are more important in a contractor than attention to detail. Even though the numbers don’t mean much on an initial bid, the spelling and punctuation matters a lot. Some people simply aren’t good spellers. That’s ok, the computer is. In the age of spell check, there is no excuse for errors like this. If he misspells “lavatory” or “undercabinet”, why would he take the time to make sure a wall is straight or the paint job is sharp?
The universe tends toward chaos. A contractor who is strong enough to bring order to a proposal will likely bring order to the project as well.
Method #3: Listen to your heart
That sounded like a joke, I know, but I am very serious. I tell my clients the “who” is more important than the “what” or the “how much”. Those questions can be changed, but the “who” will make or break the project. Having the right person to partner with in creating your space is the most important decision you will make. Everything else will be right or wrong based on this choice. Don’t believe me? Talk to your friends who had a wonderful vision for their space, but got mixed up with the wrong contractor and never recovered. It is a story that repeats too many times.
You have developed a gut instinct for people over the years. This applies to contractors more than you think. Do we listen well without interrupting? Are we asking the right questions? Do you feel like we understand what you are trying to accomplish? Do you feel like we will work in your best interest even when you aren’t there?
Your heart will tell you who will. It will probably be right.
So ask for the bid. Look it over. Thank the contractor. Then use everything else to make the decision. Be the person in the room that can’t relate when your friends complain about the horrible contractor they chose using the competitive bid.