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10 Things Your Contractor Really Wants You To Know

There's a great deal of trust involved in a homeowner-contractor relationship. And it makes sense! After all, we let contractors into our homes and pay a great deal of money for the work that they do. From their standpoint, contractors pour their blood, sweat and tears into a project, all on the assumption that we'll be satisfied and willing to pay up when the work is done. But what many homeowners don't realize is that their contractor wants things to go smoothly just as much as the homeowners do. Here are 10 things that your contractor wishes you knew before, during and after your project.

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helmet Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

It’s Okay to Ask Questions

The key to any successful contractor – client relationship is communication. It’s the contractor’s job to provide you with information, and it’s your job as the customer to speak up when you have questions or concerns. Remember that contractors deal with these issues day in and day out, and it’s easy for them to take certain knowledge and conditions for granted. Speak up when you need clarification! A good contractor will appreciate the questions.

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Doing Part of the Work Yourself Probably Won’t Save Money

A common question that contractors get from homeowners (especially those who have some DIY skills) is whether or not the homeowner can save money by doing part of the work themselves. Of course circumstances vary from project to project, but in general the answer is ‘no’.

Most construction work builds upon the trade who was there before. In other words, a painter will struggle if the drywall finishers did a poor job, and the drywall finishers will struggle if the drywall installers did shoddy work. It goes on down the line all the way to the demo team who removed the existing finished items.

It’s certainly possible that you have the skills to do the job right, but chances are good that your contractor has been burned by inexperienced homeowners in the past. If you have photos of your previous DIY projects, sharing those is a good way to reassure your contractor that you have some expertise.

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planOleg Mikhaylov/Shutterstock

Changes: The Sooner the Better

Any project of significant complexity will encounter changes and modifications during the course of the project. This isn’t unusual, and most contractors expect it to one degree or another. What your contractor would like you to know is that you’ll both be much better off if you can tell your contractor about changes (even potential changes) as far in advance as possible. If you have any feeling that you may change the scope or design of a project, speak up immediately so that your contractor can make accommodations. As just one example, changing the design of a tile floor is much easier to do before the tile is ordered, rather than after it’s installed.

Once again, you can see how important communication is to successfully working with contractors, whether inside your home or on your exterior home improvement project.

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Changes Have Ripple Effects

When you talk to your contractor about scope or design changes, it’s important to understand that every change has the potential to affect all the additional work yet to come. Using the tile example, even if you notify your contractor of the change before the tile is installed, the original tile order may still need to be canceled, and the new tile ordered, which could push the completion date of the project out a couple of weeks. This often isn’t a make-or-break detail, but it’s important to understand how one trade affects another.

On large jobs, project managers use Gantt charts and spreadsheets to anticipate how every delay or adjustment will affect the deadline. Luckily, most home projects are more straightforward, and Gantt charts are only one way to make sure you can survive a DIY remodel.

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buildCheryl Casey/Shutterstock

Weather and Permits are Out of Their Hands

You may have the best contractor in the world, but there are still a few things that are out of their control. The weather, for example, can affect both the ability to work and the availability of material. Sometimes the most frustrating days are the ones when torrential rain is predicted, only to have the clouds clear out as soon as work is canceled and a full afternoon is lost.

The other major nonnegotiable is the governmental side of the job, namely permit application times and inspection schedules. Depending on your local ordinances and layers of bureaucracy, the inspection and permit process can be either a breeze or a nightmare. Either way, all your contractor can do is follow the rules and be patient.

And of course it goes without saying that your contractor should always pull a permit when needed.

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wall Joshua Rainey Photography/Shutterstock

Walls Hold Secrets

Most remodeling contracts will contain some kind of clause about unforeseen circumstances. That’s because it’s impossible to say what the remodeler will find when they start opening up your walls. Strike up a conversation with a group of contractors and you’ll hear all kinds of stories about opening up walls to discover everything from stacks of cash to tremendous termite infestations. Again, this is an area where communication is key. A contractor is responsible for letting you know about any potential complications, and you are responsible for understanding the realities of going into a job blind.

One reason that finished basement projects tend to go so smoothly is that the walls and ceiling are often open, meaning contractor can see exactly what kind of project they’re getting into.

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Be Open About Your Budget

Many homeowners play coy when it comes to sharing their budget. This is a common instinct that stems from the fear of being overcharged. But when it comes to reputable contractors, you’re better off being honest about your budget to ensure you get the level of finish and customization you desire.

If you are genuinely uncomfortable discussing funds, be very clear about the level of finish that you’d like to see. Make it clear whether you expect linoleum or tile floors, laminate or granite countertops. Depending on the finishes and amenities, a contractor can remodel a bathroom for $5,000 or $40,000. Help them understand your goal, and they can help you achieve your dream remodel… whether that’s a major project or an affordable makeover.

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Secure Valuables and Clean Up After Pets

Even the most conscientious contractor will cause some disturbance in your life. There’s simply no way to hammer gently or saw quietly. All that vibration and motion can cause valuables to tumble off walls or shake off tables. If you have any items that are particularly valuable or fragile, it’s a good idea to tuck them away before the project starts.

As for pet waste in the yard, clean it up before work starts. Your contractor doesn’t want it on their boots, and you don’t want it tracked into your home! Otherwise, you might find yourself brushing up on your carpet cleaning skills.

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Something Will Go Wrong

The measure of a successful project isn’t whether or not it was trouble free. Instead, judge your project by how your contractor dealt with the inevitable headaches that cropped up along the way. As long as you keep your lines of communication open, and both parties are clear about obstacles and objectives, the problems that arise can be overcome and (eventually) laughed about. Don’t let concerns or questions fester, and don’t be quick to hit the panic button. Simply keep talking and asking questions, and you and your contractor should be able to work through almost anything.

If you want a humorous reminder of just how fast remodeling projects can go wrong, check out this list of 20 DIY Disasters!

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client Comaniciu Dan/Shutterstock

If You Provide Materials, they Become Your Responsibility

Some homeowners attempt to save money on a project by providing materials themselves. Some contractors are more open to this than others, but most pros take the attitude that whoever supplies the materials is responsible for making sure that those materials are the right ones for the job.

For example, if your kitchen counter has pre-drilled holes for a 4-inch faucet spread and you provide an 8-inch spread faucet, whose responsibility is it to take that back to the store and get a replacement? Even if you volunteer to replace it yourself, whose responsibility is it to pay the plumber to sit around and wait while the new one is on its way?

You can certainly supply materials, and it can even be a good way to save money, but make sure that the contractor gives a thumbs-up, confirming that those materials are the right ones for the job. For more great ways to save money on a remodel, check out this collection of 32 tips!

Dan Stout
Ohio-based freelance writer and author Dan Stout is a former residential remodeler, commercial site supervisor and maintenance manager. He’s worked on nearly all aspects of building and DIY including project planning and permitting, plumbing, basic electric, drywall, carpentry, tiling, painting and more. He also publishes noir fantasy thrillers, including The Carter Series, from Penguin imprint DAW Books.