We heard enough of scary homeowner stories of bad contractors that a prospect of using a contractor in our renovation was a scary one. But with 3 kids and very demanding jobs for both of us, DIY-ing our bathrooms or basement from scratch just was not an option. Our parents helped us with renovation of half of our basement (2 rooms) where my husband with his dad gutted, framed, dry-walled the space. We used professionals (friends) for HVAC and electrical (licensed yes!) but did the rest ourselves, or more correctly themselves.. My dad and brother helped with taping and flooring as well - so it was a true family effort. One that went ok, but I was not looking to repeat mostly because of how much time it took from start to finish.
I saw this illustrated when our contractor finished gutting and completely renovating 2 bathrooms in 4 weeks, and we spent 2 months finishing floors and small work around the house, only to see some things never finished. Time is not the only factor, but also toll on the family, as doing DIY (extensive DIY that is) with small kids who need as much attention they can get, can be very taxing on the whole family. So our choice going forward was to outsource as much as work as possible.
Well, the problem then, of course, is finding someone to work with who you can trust and who you can work well with. We went through the process of looking for recommendations from family, friends, you name it. We met with number of contractors, discussed our ideas and obtained quotes. Some seemed ok, but did not "feel" right but luckily we settled on the one that both seemed and felt right. We went through scope of work, contract, and price negotiations, in addition, to adding a couple of provisions to try and protect ourselves as much as we could.
Scope of work is really a topic onto itself, as much as it is the price for the renovation and what it includes. I found that people do hide (in blogland) what and how much they spend on something, so it is relatively hard to know if what you are being given is fair or not. Now, one can use other quotes to determine where some of the quotes fall in, and each situation is unique, as one needs to account location, scope of work, fixed price vs. not, materials included vs. not, etc, but sharing more of our experiences should be a good thing. I will go over some of the budget items and contracts in another post.
When it came to our experience with our contractor for our two bathrooms - I would say I would rate him as 8 out of 10. On one hand I was ecstatic that he has done basically what he said he would do without random charges and add-ons. While there were some add-ons, they were our choice and they were very reasonable in price. So on that front I would give him 10 out of 10. Our concerns were with some of the sub-trade work that was done, which we did not think was all that great (i.e. dry-walling). This was dismissed as unimportant as taping would cover it - but it is important and taping cannot fix everything.
Here one is presented with a choice - you can insist to have it fixed or you can decide to live with it. In our case, we felt we were getting a break in terms of price in some aspects that we did not think having some small imperfections would bother us in a long run - but then there were things that were obviously wrong which we knew we would not be able to live with - that we insisted on having fixed. Good thing was that on those things that we found important, our contractor agreed as well and in some cases, went ahead before we even said anything to have them addressed.
Issue really is, how my friend who built a custom house from scratch, put it, that contractors (project managers) will not really get into any types of conflicts with their own trades or sub-trades especially as they depend on them for other jobs and will always look to get the client to change their mind. It is really up to you decide how much you care about something to have it addressed.
While I mostly liked working with my contractor, where he has also failed is in the following areas:
1. During first renovation he was more present ensuring that there were no needless mistakes that needed to be fixed and therefore job could be finished faster.
2. In some cases, due to his lack of presence during second renovation, some of the mistakes were unfix-able unless one would have ripped everything out.
3. While he did provide a good value and has done extra for us, he also made me feel like everything he was doing was a favour to me, not something I was paying for.
4. He rushed the finishing touches in both jobs - again as if that was not part of the job but somehow a favour to us.
5. Even though he was really good on delivering what he committed, I found unless some of the things were explicitly stated in the contract, he would forget about them. So contract, contract, contract, scope, scope scope, details, details, details....
Would I work with this contractor for a third time - yes. I think I would know what to ask for, look for, etc. Sometimes it is better to work with 'devil' you know than the one you don't, I guess that is how the saying goes, but at the same time I would source other quotes and talk to other contractors. We are faced with such prospect now as we are slowly planning our first floor gut job - renovation....
Hope this helps with anyone scared to embark to work with a contractor - I will go over more detailed aspects in future posts.