Working With Your Contractor


In our culture in the United States, we have been trained to believe that we have certain rights, and this is certainly true in the way contractors do their work and interact with you. The issue not readily acknowledged is that
                     contractors can rarely do their work
                     without information and decisions from the people they are working for.

This is the difference between purchasing a product and using a management service, which is primarily what a contractor is.

When we purchase a product, we understand what we are getting. We expect that the product meets certain expectations and that we are getting what has been advertised. These expectations are an outgrowth of our consumer culture.

When we use a management service, which is what all contractors are, we have a tendency to apply these consumer expectations blindly to what we think the contractors are doing for us. Our expectations are that we will get what we expect on the basis of how we have understood the advertising, but there is a huge difference. Contractors cannot provide their service without our direct involvement. We aren't involved with the way the car makers put the car together, or the way the soup is canned. We are involved with contractors and the construction (decision) process . We have to acknowledge that our own decisions, and the timing of these decisions, have a direct bearing on how the team of contractors and craftspeople accomplish their work. We need their direct input in order to make these decisions, and they need us to make up our minds in a way that allows them to do what they originally stated they would.

The fact is, most contractors are honest and competent. They want to do a good job, and have a sense of accomplishment when they complete their work. This isn't surprising because this is true for most people in what they do. Many how-to books on contractors seem to be written by consumer reporters who write from the standpoint of the few bad apples (contractors) being everywhere, and want to make sure that you protect yourself from them. This is an alarmist approach to life that doesn't work well in trying to get quality work accomplished. Yes, bad contractors exist out there. Working With Your Contractor shows techniques that you can use to make sure that you are working with someone with integrity. This requires some homework on your part, but it isn't that difficult. What is difficult is to work with a contractor to get what you want and to make sure that you understand what you are getting. That is the tough part about a construction project. In comparison, finding an honest contractor is far easier.

What we have found is that successful construction projects happen when the consumer works with the contractor as a team. This is also a contemporary management approach that has been incorporated into most successful businesses. This is also why I say if you "hire" a contractor, your project is off on the wrong foot. Work "with" a contractor, and you will be on the right track.

For this reason, we have labeled this page: CONSUMER RIGHTS & OBLIGATIONS. You have the right to be treated in a legal and ethical manner. However, you are obligated to do more than simply pay for the work. You are an important part of making sure that you will be happy when the work is complete.

That is why this section is a bit different from most "Bill of Rights" lists, and why WWYC is different from other books' approach.

When dealing with your construction or design professional...

You have the right to:

  • Feel comfortable and not be intimidated
  • Ask questions and be informed
  • Expect the quality you have requested, and to be informed of quality comparisons/selections
  • Have an understandable and above-board contract
  • Inspect the work as it is being performed and to request explanations/clarifications
  • Set a budget which is respected (and not feel badgered about the "additive principle")
  • Call in specialty experts when relevant
  • Have a regular review of the project budget and schedule
  • Have the work performed in a way that is safe and clean of debris
  • Be informed of any problems with the project immediately
  • Have your questions and concerns responded to in a timely manner
  • Not have to pay for work not yet completed or not properly performed

In other words, you have the right to be treated with respect.

You are obligated to:

  • Communicate clearly in a timely manner, and in a respectful way
  • Listen to the answers and make sure that you understand what is being said
  • Make decisions in a way that allows these people to work efficiently, and understand that if your decisions are delayed you may be altering someone's costs as well as their morale
  • Acknowledge that your decisions may alter the original basis for the contract work and budget
  • Pay people the in the agreed-upon manner

In other words, you are obligated to treat the other person with respect.

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